A New York Times article recently spoke bleakly about “the disarray in Washington.” The authors suggested that, even with its procedural shambles, Congress may be able to pass some energy legislation prior to the 2020 elections. No, it won’t be the “sweeping measure to tackle climate change that is really needed,” but it’s a bit of something “that does more good than harm for the climate and the country.”
“More good than harm?” Is it surprising that Congress can’t muster “more good than harm?” Not really. This is a federal government that agreed to double the nation’s overall research budget, including energy research, in a 2007 law, but it never actually put up the money. We can’t delegate money for energy research? We can only come up with a weak bill without adequate funding?
It’s not just the New York Times that bemoans the shortsightedness of the federal government. Mark Z. Jacobson, professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Stanford University, writes in CleanTechnica, “A 100% transition of all energy sectors by 2030, while technically and economically possible and desirable, may not occur that fast for social and political reasons.”
Ah, there it is. “Social and political reasons.”
Wind as a Powerful Renewable Energy Direction — Are You Listening, Congress?
“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.”
— Charles Dickens
The latest energy and electricity forecasts from the US government have predicted that wind energy will outperform hydropower for the first time, providing a greater share of the country’s electricity mix in 2019. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) outlines that wind generation will rise from 753,000 megawatt hours per day (MWh/d) in 2018 to 861,000 MWh/d in 2019 (a share of 8%). Wind generation is projected to rise to 963,000 MWh/d (a share of 9%) by 2020.
Companies and developers are rushing to take advantage of the US Production Tax Credit, which could lead to over 23 gigawatts (GW) of new wind capacity in 2019 and 2020. The federal renewable electricity production tax credit (PTC) is an inflation-adjusted per-kilowatt-hour (kWh) tax credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources and sold by the taxpayer to an unrelated person during the taxable year.
Dan Shreve, head of global wind research at Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, says, “Between 2019-2020, we anticipate strong growth in wind energy installations as the industry rushes to meet deadlines for US Production Tax Credits (PTC).”
The need for the wind energy industry to rush to meet PTC deadlines has a lot to do with fossil fuel industry influence in Congress. Industry leaders knew about the risks of global warming as early as the 1970s — just look at Exxon’s track record on climate science denial and climate double talk as an example. Exxon (before it merged with Mobil) started funding climate disinformation 20 years ago and knew about the problem nearly 40 years ago. Dealing with global warming, however, meant using fewer fossil fuels. Exxon and other fossil fuel industries went on to finance—and continue to fund—climate disinformation campaigns, and they spread false or misleading information about climate change and provide lots of campaign finance to politicians to deny its urgency.
Their efforts have been successful. Despite widespread scientific consensus, climate action is now a partisan issue in the US Congress, complicating efforts to move from fossil fuels to clean energy. Yet climate change is a strong motivation for choosing low-carbon energy sources like wind, as are numerous economic reasons.
What the Trump Administration Wants, The Trump Administration Doesn’t Necessarily Get
“Kites rise against the wind — not with it.”
— Winston Churchill —
The Trump administration likes its coal. The revival of coal is a key tenet of Trump’s joie de vivre. His idea is that, by allowing coal companies to emit more pollutants into the atmosphere, he would lower their operating costs enough that they could stay in business or, ideally, expand their market share. David Hill, who served as the Energy Department’s general counsel under President George W. Bush, was the likely candidate up until very recently for a seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But Hill had publicly criticized the Trump administration’s push to offer financial aid to coal power plants, and he’s now off the list.
In the US, roughly 30% of all electricity comes from coal: the rest comes from natural gas, nuclear, and renewables like wind and solar. Coal needs to stay in the ground if we are to begin to tackle global warming. And coal is slowing sinking into the energy mix horizon, as economic realities push coal retirements — leading to 66 gigawatts of total retired capacity from now until 2027. Wood Mackenzie says as utilities retire their coal fleets, their increased willingness to rate-base wind assets positions wind power to meet their growing supply gaps.
Trump’s visions about coal simply haven’t worked. The cost of wind energy, on the other hand, is dropping so fast that even dirtier coal plants can’t compete on a cost basis. It’s actually less expensive to build a new wind farm than to keep running an existing coal plant.
The New York Times argues that the US Congress should specifically seek a rapid expansion of offshore wind farms. They say such a move would require tax breaks to jump-start the wind industry and a mandate to accelerate offshore leasing. Because the technology of offshore wind production has improved significantly in recent years, this is viable. In Rhode Island alone, wind turbines have become part of the norm of a renewable energy landscape, from interior turbines to Block Island’s offshore farm.
It’s time for Congress and the #fakepresident to step up to the power and potential of wind, because, as the market expands, costs will fall and the tax breaks can be phased out.
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Research Says Wind Turbines Lessen Effects of Hurricanes
“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails.”
— William Arthur Ward —
With the US propensity for high-category, high-damage hurricanes, the connection between wind turbines and hurricanes is of interest to researchers. In late 2018, Cristina Archer at the University of Delaware unveiled an unexpected benefit of large-scale offshore wind farms: they lessen the precipitation caused by devastating storms. Wind Power Associate Director of the Center for Carbon-free Power Integration, Archer and team explained that wind farms can help mitigate the precipitation by affecting two large factors that cause precipitation.
- Wind Convergence: The strong hurricane winds slow down when they hit wind turbines, which is an effect known as “convergence” and enhances precipitation. Increased precipitation occurs because, when the winds converge at a point on the surface, they have no other place to go except up, and that vertical motion brings more moisture into the atmosphere.
- Divergence: Divergence is the opposite effect. It causes downward motion, attracting air coming down, which is drier and suppresses precipitation.
“Think about convergence like when there’s traffic on a freeway and everybody is going fast and then, all of a sudden, there’s an accident, and everybody slows down. You get a convergence of cars that backs up because everybody slows down. That’s the convergence upstream of the offshore wind farms,” said Archer.
The study, chronicled in Science Daily, shows that offshore wind farms can be of benefit to coastal communities — not just by providing clean energy but also by reducing the effects of hurricanes. Archer added she is hopeful the numbers will increase in the future. “The more wind farms you have, the more impact they will have on a hurricane. By the time a hurricane actually makes landfall, these arrays of turbines have been operating for days and days, extracting energy and moisture out of the storm. As a result, the storm will be weaker. Literally.”
Public-Private Partnerships for Wind Industry Progress
“Come Fairies, take me out of this dull world, for I would ride with you upon the wind and dance upon the mountains like a flame!”
— William Butler Yeats —
The US states of Virginia, Maryland, and Massachusetts will join the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium (NOWRDC), as will EnBW North America, Vineyard Wind, and Anbaric Development Partners. Along with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the US Department of Energy, and other existing members, they will provide funding, technology validation, and leadership as partners to accelerate the development and innovation of the US offshore wind industry.
Participation of public and private stakeholders contributes to growing the industry to “ensure that we will meet our renewable energy goals.” said Consortium Chairman of the Board Robert B. Catell. The Consortium will work to bring down costs and drive the evolving technology needed to scale the wind industry in the US, while driving a national strategy for offshore wind innovation that addresses the diverse needs of all US offshore wind regions.
In late 2017, DOE announced $20.5 million for a consortium that would conduct research and development to address technological barriers and lower the costs and risks of offshore wind in the United States. Of these funds, $18.5 million would be directed to the consortium, and $2 million would go directly to national laboratory research in support of the consortium. Alicia Barton, President and CEO, NYSERDA said, “The Consortium’s growth is a clear sign of momentum in the fast-developing US offshore wind sector.” She acknowledged that, as New York continues to advance nation-leading climate and clean energy goals under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, Green New Deal, the success of efforts like this will be critical to our efforts to build an economy that is powered by 100% clean electricity sources like offshore wind.”
Last year, the Consortium released the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium Roadmap (Roadmap) outlining the priorities for developing the offshore wind industry in the United States. The Roadmap focuses on 3 pillars for offshore wind technology research: advancing wind plant technology, offshore wind power resource and characterization, in addition to operational and supply chain technology solutions.
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