United States

United States

US wind ready to tackle big issues

The eyes of wind-power professionals are now turning towards Chicago, this year's venue for one of the industry's main events, the American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA) conference and exhibition, opening on 7 May.

The mood at last year’s event in Los Angeles hovered between anxiety and defiance, reflecting delegates’ concerns over the climate change-denying rhetoric of the new government, and their determination to ensure US wind power continues to develop and grow.

Twelve months on, anxiety levels have fallen as it has become evident that shouting from the rostrum for the return of coal is a very long way from making it happen.

That much was made crystal clear when United States' energy secretary Rick Perry’s recommendation that coal and nuclear plants should be financially supported so they could continue to provide baseload supply was unceremoniously rejected by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in January.

Meanwhile, individual states have simply been ignoring the white noise emanating from the White House, and getting on with installing more wind power.

Over 7GW of new capacity was added last year, for a total of just under 90GW. Wind provided 6.3% of the country’s electricity last year, with 14 states generating more than 10%.

Projects built in the past few years, using the latest technology, are achieving average capacity factors in excess of 40%. According to AWEA, wind power is 67% cheaper than it was in 2009. The economic case is unarguable.

There is still cause for some anxiety, not least concerning potential tariffs on steel imports and certain turbine components sourced in China.

But the overall feeling is that US wind has weathered Trump’s storm-in-a-teacup, and can now focus on two main challenges: adapting to life after the phase-out of the production tax credit and developing an offshore sector.

Reality check

To hear the enthusiasm of some investors for the potential of offshore wind in the United States, you could be forgiven for thinking they invented it.

But the route from where the US stands now, with just one small project generating electricity in its waters, to where some of the north-east states are aiming to be in a few years, will not be easy to follow. The death-by-litigation of the ambitious Cape Wind project provides a sobering example.

Turbine designer and former Siemens CTO Henrik Stiesdal "retired" a couple of years ago. But his work and thinking — on floating foundations, turbine size, and storage — continues. US offshore developers could do worse than read our interview.

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