The US Department of Energy buried some good news about the US wind industry earlier this month, and now all of a sudden the floodgates are open. On Friday afternoon the agency promoted three new annual reports recapping the state of US wind power in 2018, including utility scale onshore and offshore wind, and distributed wind. Together, they track the rise of wind power — and the fall of coal.
Dumping All The Good News About US Wind Power
So what’s with the Friday news dump? After all, releasing major news on a Friday afternoon is a classic PR strategy for burying bad news, and the three new reports are ripe with good news. Well, unless you are someone who promised to save the US coal industry.
Under Secretary of Energy Mark W. Menezes dropped a hint in that direction in Friday’s press release announcing the three reports, stating that “this Administration has proven that we can pursue renewable energy advancements and deployment, particularly wind energy resources.”
In his next breath Menezes hammered home the point with this comment: “U.S. offshore wind is poised to be a significant part of our comprehensive energy portfolio in the coming years.”
That’s not particularly good news for other energy sources that have, until now, staked their own claim to that “significant part.”
In particular, so much for saving all your coal jobs, as was often promised by the Commander-in-Chief of this Administration. Energy consumption is flatlining and a global recession is waiting in the wings. Coal already has zero chance of a revival in the power generation sector, and Menezes all but said out loud that offshore wind will pile onto existing market pressures (looking at you, natural gas) that are squeezing coal out of the power generation market.
Wind Power Catching Up To Natural Gas, Too
Natural gas stakeholders should also take the new reports as a warning sign. One of the them is the 2018 Wind Technologies Market Report for utility scale onshore wind. It makes the case for wind competing on cost with natural gas for power generation in some markets.
The Wind Technologies report demonstrates that onshore utility scale wind power is a nationwide trend with utility scale projects operating in 41 states, accounting for a fairly impressive 6.5% of overall electricity generation. Some states far exceed that, venturing up to the 30% range. That’s significant in terms of building resiliency into state-level energy policy, rather than relying on long gas supply chains.
For the record, a separate press release announcing Wind Technologies report hit the Intertubes back on August 12, but it was lodged in an obscure page on the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory website. Go figure!
Offshore Wind Power Catching Up To Onshore
Of the two reports freshly announced on Friday afternoon, the 2018 Offshore Wind Technologies Market Report plants the biggest, reddest flag for fossil energy stakeholders.
That report totes up a potential generating capacity of 25,824 megawatts for offshore wind power projects already in the pipeline among 13 east coast states and the Great Lakes. That includes 30 megawatts for the Block Island wind farm off the coast of Rhode Island, which is currently the only offshore array producing wind power in the US.
By comparison, utility scale onshore wind in the US took a good 30 years to reach a total capacity of 96,433 megawatts in 2018.
The key difference, aside from economic and policy drivers, consists of improvements in technology and scale. Both onshore and offshore turbines are getting bigger and better.
As impressive as the east coast offshore pipeline is, there’s plenty more megawatts where that comes from. The new offshore report also notes that wind power development on the west coast is beginning to take shape, in the form of floating wind turbines designed for the technologically challenging waters of the Pacific states and Hawaii.
The Distributed Wind Revolution
The third report is the Distributed Wind Market Report. As defined by the Energy Department, distributed wind refers to turbines of any size that generate electricity for use on site.
Distributed wind also includes rural electric cooperatives and other distribution utilities (those are the ones who make the final connection from grid to onsite users).
DOE further breaks down the distributed sector by size. The small, distributed wind category includes all turbines with a capacity of up to 100 kilowatts, and that’s where some interesting action is taking place.
Here’s the explainer from the Energy Department:
Of small wind turbines (nameplate capacity up to 100 kilowatts) deployed in the United States, very small turbines—less than 1 kW— are contributing an increasingly larger percentage of both the total number of turbines (99%) and capacity (47%) of small wind projects. These systems are often used for battery charging and are sometimes integrated with solar PV panels to power remote infrastructure.
Interesting, right? As a group, distributed wind turbines are getting bigger, but small wind turbines (aka micro wind turbines) are getting smaller. If you have any thoughts on that, drop us a note on the comment thread. Meanwhile, CleanTechnica is reaching out to DOE to see if that trend shows signs of sticking so stay tuned for more on that.
Another interesting trend is the increased use of distributed wind in the commercial and industrial sectors. In 2018 the lion’s share (47%) of capacity was staked out by distribution utilities, but commercial and industrial users contributed a healthy 29% to the year’s total.
Onward & Upward For Renewable Energy
The Energy Department also dropped another tidbit of good news for renewables on Friday.
The agency has earmarked $13.5 million for cutting edge bioengineering research that will leverage quantum dots, among other new technologies, to snap a more precise picture of the metabolic processes within living cells.
“Such capabilities will be important in the effort to reengineer plants and microbes for bioenergy conversion and production,” says the Energy Department.
Hold on to your hats!
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Photo (screenshot): via US Department of Energy.