The fall of the American share of the global market is despite a doubling in installation of new worldwide wind capacity in 1995 compared with 1994, an increment of 1300 MW instead of about 600 MW the year before. It is also despite wind power having been the fastest-growing energy market, albeit from a small base, with investment totalling some $1.5 billion last year, mostly outside the US.
This state of affairs is clear in a report compiled for the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) which is concerned that the US is abdicating what was once a leadership role in wind energy with policies that stifle renewables but support conventional fuels. This dismal trend in the US wind business is also backed by a new report by the US Department of Energy -- the Renewable Energy Annual 1995 -- which indicates that domestic renewable energy continues to face strong competition from conventional sources.
Total world wind capacity is expected to exceed 6000 MW in 1996 and had exceeded 5000 MW by the end of 1995, according to figures compiled by consultant Paul Gipe for AWEA. Also by the end of 1996, he predicts Germany will have more operating capacity than California and will rival the total installed capacity of all of America.
In comparison, California lost some 50 MW. Gipe gauges that California has lost 7% of its cumulative capacity since its peak of 1697 MW in 1991 and that in 1995 America actually lost some 8 MW cumulatively.
The trend may be continuing to deepen too. In the Altamont Pass, in northern California, there are 400 turbines remaining out of an original 1500 on the Fayette site, now owned by New World Power. These have reportedly been down-rated from 90 kW to 50 kW apiece, reducing installed capacity at the site from 150 MW in 1985 to 20 MW.
Failing to keep pace
The US now hosts about 30% of the world's operating wind turbines, compared with 80% in 1985. "US wind power capacity has plateaued in recent years leaving America with an increasingly smaller portion of the world market," laments AWEA. "We are failing to keep pace with the world, which is welcoming wind energy technology as a clean economical and reliable source of energy."
Renewables have held steady in the 1990s at about a 7% share of US energy consumption despite their technological and economic advances, according to the Renewable Energy Annual 1995, issued in February by the Energy Information Administration. In non-utility generation renewables, however, play a larger role and account for one-quarter of electricity generated. Between 1990 and 1994, non-utility renewable energy grew in the US by some 8.6% annually. The US Department of Energy report also states that wind has been the fastest-growing renewable. Costs decreased from some $0.50/kWh in 1980 to the current $0.05-0.07/kWh. Much promise, for renewables, is in the international market, the report concludes. Governments have policies that favour renewables while many people without electricity reside far from the nearest power grid where stand-alone renewables may be suitable.