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Energy

Wind Turbines (Onshore)

Wind turbine under construction

Wind energy is at the crest of initiatives to address global warming in the coming three decades. Today, 314,000 wind turbines supply nearly 4 percent of global electricity, and it will soon be much more. In 2015, a record 63 gigawatts of wind power were installed around the world.

The wind industry is marked by a proliferation of turbines, dropping costs, and heightened performance. In many locales, wind is either competitive with or less expensive than coal-generated electricity—and it has no fuel costs and no pollution. Ongoing cost reduction will soon make wind energy the least expensive source of electricity, perhaps within a decade.

Onshore wind farms have small footprints, typically using no more than 1 percent of the land they sit on, so grazing, farming, recreation, or conservation can happen simultaneously with power generation. What’s more, it takes one year or less to build a wind farm—quickly producing energy and a return on investment.

The variable nature of wind means there are times when turbines are not turning. Wind energy, like other sources of energy, is part of a system. Investment in 24-7 renewables such as geothermal, energy storage, transmission infrastructure, and distributed generation is essential to its growth.

References

Liverpool…Burbo Bank Extension: Schwägerl, Christian. “Offshore Wind Energy is Booming in Europe.” Yale Environment 360. October 20, 2016.

314,000 wind turbines supply…electricity: GWEC. “Wind in Numbers.” http://www.gwec.net/global-figures/wind-in-numbers/; REN21. Renewables 2016 Global Status Report. Paris: REN21 Secretariat, 2016.

Ten million homes in Spain: GWEC, “Numbers.”

Investment in offshore wind: “Record $30bn year for Offshore Wind But Overall Investment Down.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance. January 12, 2017.

[history of wind power]: Hills, Richard L. Power from Wind: A History of Windmill Technology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.; “Timeline: The History of Wind Power.” The Guardian. October 17, 2008; DOE. “History of U.S. Wind Energy.” https://energy.gov/eere/wind/history-us-wind-energy.

2015…wind power [installations]: REN21, Renewables 2016.

[U.S.] wind energy potential: Elliott, D.L., L.L. Wendell, and G.L. Gower. An Assessment of the Available Windy Land Area and Wind Energy Potential in the Contiguous United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, 1991. 

fossil fuel…subsidies: Coady, David, Ian Parry, Louis Sears, and Baoping Shang. IMF Working Paper: How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies? Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 2015. 

Current costs; “lowest cost source”: Hensley, John. “New Reports Highlight Bright, Low-Cost Future of Wind.” Into the Wind—the AWEA (blog). August 18, 2016; Kooroshy, Jaakko, Brian Lee, Franklin Chow, Stefan Burgstaller, Justus Schirmacher, Daniela Costa, Michael Lapides, and Alberto Gandolfi. The Low Carbon Economy: Technology in the Driver’s Seat. The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. November 28, 2016.

[cost of] projects built in 2016: Hensley, “Future.”

Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Randall, Tom. “The World Nears Peak Fossil Fuels for Electricity.” Bloomberg. June 13, 2016.

United States…capacity factors: WINDExchange. “Potential Wind Capacity.” http://apps2.eere.energy.gov/wind/windexchange/windmaps/resource_potential.asp.

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Errata

p. 4

Correction: In Germany in 2015, bottlenecks in the grid caused 4,100 gigawatt-hours of wind electricity to be wasted—enough energy to power 1.2 million homes for a year.

Correction: An increase in onshore wind from 3 to 4 percent of world electricity use to 21.6 percent by 2050 could reduce emissions by 84.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

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