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Published on March 19th, 2014 | by AWEA

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Technology Played Key Role In Wind Industry Growth

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March 19th, 2014 by  

By American Wind Energy Association.

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Washington, D.C. — American wind energy generation has outpaced the growth in new wind power capacity thanks to innovative technological advancements. Over the past five years, U.S. wind energy capacity grew from 25,000 megawatts (MW) to over 61,000 MW, a 140 percent growth rate, yet electricity generated from these wind turbines grew at a rate of 200 percent, exceeding capacity growth and making wind energy cheaper than ever.

The increasing performance and production of wind turbines is the result of technological innovation and operational improvements, which has effectively driven down the costs and allowed development to occur in lower wind speed regions. Advancements undertaken by manufacturers include designing taller towers and turbines with longer and lighter blades allowing rotor diameters to exceed 100 meters, larger than the wingspan of the largest commercial jets. The power of the wind is directly proportional to the swept area of the blades, so an increase in rotor diameter has spurred development in low and medium wind speed areas and has added to the efficiency of existing sites.

“Wind turbine and component manufacturers have been diligently working over the last few years to develop longer, lighter advanced technology blades that allow the systems to produce more energy at lower costs,” said Steve Lockard, President and CEO of TPI Composites. “Continued reduction in levelized cost of energy (LCOE) is key to making wind even more competitive with conventional electricity sources,” said Lockard.

Tower heights have also grown steadily in the last five years, allowing developers to access higher, steadier wind resources. A decade ago, the average wind turbine was installed on a 65 meter tower. Today, the average wind turbine sits atop an 80 meter tower, but 85 and 100 meter towers are increasingly utilized.

The combination of taller towers and larger rotor diameters has been vital to bringing the cost of wind energy down, allowing developers to build projects in a cost-effective manner in locations like the Great Lakes. States like Indiana, Ohio and Michigan have experienced rapid growth and a decrease in the price of wind power once tower heights reached 80 meters. According to the Michigan Public Service Commission, as electricity production has increased, wind contract prices have fallen from 11 cents to 4-5 cents since 2009.

Operational improvements have also contributed to the increased production. More informed operations and maintenance strategies have led to the highest performance levels ever seen in the U.S. wind industry. According to an assessment by the Sandia National Laboratory, wind turbine availability, utilization and capacity factors have all improved over the past three years. In all, capacity factors have risen across the fleet and at certain projects in wind-rich states capacity factors have exceeded 50 percent, according to the Department of Energy.

In just under two months’ time, the entire wind industry will gather in Las Vegas, Nevada for AWEA WINDPOWER 2014 Conference & Exhibition on May 5-8, to discuss the above mentioned technology improvements and unveil the next fleet of wind turbines that will undoubtedly build on the progress we have seen over the last five years. The wind energy industry started 2014 with a record 12,000 MW of wind project capacity under construction and will deliver even more clean and affordable energy to our nation’s electricity generation portfolio.

Further details on wind energy generation datastate-level wind energy statistics as well as trends in distribution and average turbine size will be released in the forthcoming AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report Year Ending 2013.

Data Source: AWEA, EIA

Chart Source: Forthcoming AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report Year Ending 2013

The complete AWEA U.S. Wind Industry Annual Market Report Year Ending 2013 will be released in April 2014.  This 100-page report will provide a comprehensive look at the U.S. wind energy industry, project activity by state and region, market rankings and key industry players, wind turbine characteristics, status of power offtake and electric utilities, component manufacturing, and impact of the U.S. wind energy industry.  Get a glimpse through the table of contents and summary from the 2012 report. Attendees of WINDPOWER 2014 in Las Vegas can attend market sessions at the AWEA booth and hear directly from experts’ market insights, upcoming activity and industry trends.

Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.



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About the Author

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) is the voice of wind energy in the U.S., promoting renewable energy to power a cleaner, stronger America. Keep up with all the latest wind industry news at: http://www.aweablog.org/blog/



  • JamesWimberley

    The increase in capacity factors is as much the result of economics as technology. Early designs emphasised maximum total output, leading to large generators which the rotors could only drive to maximum output tin high winds. Then the industry realized that it was more valuable to smooth output over longer periods. Modern turbines therefore have larger rotors in relation to their generators, sacrificing peak output for longer periods of lower but stable output. There are technical factors too: wind tends to be steadier at the greater hub heights of today, and rotor blades are now dynamically feathered to match wind conditions, which in turn are monitored and predicted with much greater precision.

    • Osbueno

      Fascinating… please provide some reference information, which leads to your conclusions stated above. Thanks.

  • Chris Marshalk

    Why isn’t the Australian government doing this??? Why is our Aussie government so mentally deranged & so backwards thinking?

    • Ronald Brakels

      South Australia is a world leader in wind power and is the only mainland state without a large coal industry and coal is in control. Austalia’s carbon price and Renewable Energy Target were introduced to gradually reduce Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions and the Coal-ition government is now working to eliminate or weaken them, not for the benefit of the people of Australia but for the benefit of the coal industry.

    • Omega Centauri

      We use the term “regulatory capture”. Big industrial interests (in this case coal), have bought the government they want. It is very similar to the situation in the USA.

    • nullbull

      Your market is seeing a major drop in demand for electricity due to a large number of factors. Recent press I’ve read has been about Australia’s utility companies and coal power generators turning down production and struggling to keep up with the rate of change. Admittedly, most of this related to straight-to-consumer solar development, not wind.

      • Ronald Brakels

        One estimate puts about 20% of the decline in electricity use as being the result of increased electricity prices. The major reason why electricity prices have increased is because electricity use has decreased far below what was predicted. Beatings will continue until morale improves.

    • Osbueno

      Perhaps it’s too busy looking for an airplane? At least God bless them for that!

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