Monday, March 21, 2011

US Wind Energy Installations Collapsed in 2010

I'm amazed I hadn't heard about this already - there is obviously some important gap in my set of blog/news subscriptions.  I just decided I wanted to know whether the growth in US wind installations had continued in 2010, so I went to the American Wind Energy Association website, and ended up at their Q4 2010 market report.  I was horrified to see the graph above, showing that new installations collapsed in 2010 (though with some recovery in Q4).

The AWEA doesn't give a very clear account of the reasons for the collapse.  They say things like:
The boom-and-bust cycle that has developed due to short-term incentives is not conducive to business investment and increased employment.

This chart of new installations of wind generating capacity by quarter clearly illustrates the consequences of on-again, off-again short-term federal incentives for wind as a market signal. In that connection, it’s important to understand that wind projects can be built so quickly (in six months to a year) that the entire pace of activity in the wind industry can be driven by the month-to-month prospects of, say, a tax incentive extension pending before Congress.
I at least would like a clearer and more detailed account of what happened.  I'm guessing it probably also has to do with the fact that natural gas prices have declined from the highs in 2008:

We need much more wind power.  When wind power goes wrong, it kills the odd bird or maybe the occasional worker.  Some people don't like the look of the towers.  But we need power, and wind power doesn't destabilize the climate, and it doesn't irradiate hundreds of square miles of farmland.  So this collapse in investment is terrible news.

I understand why the US congress and the Obama administration was not able to pass climate change legislation, but it's a terrible commentary on their energy/environmental policy that they weren't even able to maintain the pace of growth in wind installation.

In the meantime, I urge my readers to ensure their own power is coming from renewable sources.  In the US, Green-E can help you figure out what the options are in your state.


Stuart Staniford said...

Certainly not going to figure it out from the EIA: they just released 2009 figures in January 2011.

Stuart Staniford said...

Likewise the IEA only has 2009 data, and you have to pay for it.

Also, searches on technorati and google blog search came up with no recently updated blogs that focus on wind power.

WwoofBum said...


I generally agree with you regarding the usefulness of wind power (though, as far as I have been able to determine there is still some question about the long-term EROEI). However, one question that has occurred to me has to do with your statement "windpower doesn't destabilize the climate..." I would argue that there is, to date, insufficient data to make such a claim. Wind is both a product of the climate system and a driver of is an expression of global energy dynamics, and there is no way, at this moment, to determine the effect of extracting from the system any significant percentage of that energy.

Stuart Staniford said...

The AWEA themselves have a blog. It looks ok - obviously this is the slant of the wind industry. However, it obviously doesn't have too much blog authority since neither of the big blog search engines report it near the top of their listings. And I went back through the last three months of postings, and they didn't flag the AWEA's Q4 market report.

I find this infuriating: I wish I had picked up on this issue last April or May and followed it intensively, but I have yet to figure out some reasonably focussed strategy that would have bought it to my attention (without massively increasing the noise in my reader).

KLR said...

NYT columnist is all agosh about the fact that cats kill more birds than turbines, a red herring I first read about in the 90s. That doesn't bode well for getting the message out if the NYT staff haven't parsed simple FAQs like this.

For 2010 the world as a whole is up 22.5% anyway. Nearly half is courtesy China of course, who now lead the world for production too. Interestingly the article also singles out North Africa — Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia - for throwing up some turbines. Will be interesting to see how that plays out post domestic uprising.

Major bugaboo is financing, of course. Author of my link has a good piece on that: Renewable Energy Trends 2011: 'Green Gold Loses Its Glitter | Renewable Energy World Magazine Article

Alexander Ac said...


how did you come to *not* expect that 1st phase of the financial crash would have significant effect on wind industry?

True, the crash came later than in other areas, but that is only thanks to subsidies...



Alexander Ac said...

And then we have Lester Brown ensuring us that we have enough of methadone (instead of heroine) in the form of wind power:

obviously it is hard to defeat the mantra o "green growth",



Robert Wilson said...

Boone Pickens had to back away from wind. One can still see quite a few wind turbines while on a landing approach to Rick Husband Airport in Amarillo.

porsena said...

Another vote here for the credit crunch. With the financing collapse having to work its way through the order and construction processes, it's likely we'll see another down year in 2011.

Greg said...


This is the second time today I've seen the idea that wind power can affect climate, so I'll respond.

Total wind power across the globe is about two hundred times the amount of power we get from everything - fossil fuels, nuclear, hydro, biomass - the lot. We'll never use more than a small fraction of wind, for two reasons: first, we don't need to; and second, only the best wind sites (maybe ten percent of our energy supply, half a thousandth of the wind at the very most) provide power more cheaply than the next best thing - solar.

There may be localised climate effects (similar to urban heat islands), but that's all. Wind power cannot affect the climate.

chris said...

You could follow jerome a paris.
He is a financier in the European wind business, an editor at The Oil Drum and he writes at Daily Kos and The European Tribune.
If nothing else he'd know where to get all the numbers.

Tim said...

Let's hope the investment in wind and other renewables picks up, and in a big way. In other news... at least the Chinese are starting to look at thorium-salt based nuclear instead of uranium based nuclear. About time too. If we are to use nuclear we should at least use the least-worst type of nuclear.

Don said...

Just a few observations...First off, most of the drop was in 1st quarter 2010 completions (I'm assuming completions and not some other metric) some 12 months after the March '09 stock market low. With a 6 to 12 month build out, it would follow that there would be a big dip then. Hopefully, the financial recovery will help here although it's not a good sign.

Secondly, Fukushima at full capacity is somewhat less than 6,000 MW, about half the record year of US wind power installations. So the only way WP has any hope of PO remediation is if a super high compound growth rate is maintained. Ergo, some combination of tax breaks and/or subsidy will be required to overcome crude oil price gyration and any potential economic instability. I'm not confident the present situation i.e. deficits, uncertainty etc, will be conducive to such long range execution.

IMO, the "free markets will save us mantra" is terribly flawed, as markets generally operate much closer to the near term than not. As Nate Hagens would say, they discount the future at too high a high rate. Regardless of recent news, the French look pretty smart in their nuc approach and there is no way It would have happened without a long term strategic plan supported by the public. We would do well to mimic it in renewables. If the prior post about Iraq's western desert turns out to be correct however, I am doubtful we will.

bordoe said...

>>But we need power, and wind power doesn't destabilize the climate, and it doesn't irradiate hundreds of square miles of farmland. So this collapse in investment is terrible news.

What about the mining, refining, constructing, transporting, erecting, laying power lines to the generators?

I ask because the same claim on emissions is made by the nuclear folks and they completely ignore the climate effects of all the activity it took to build a plant.

It may be correct that the total climate effects of installing and running wind power generation is much smaller than that of nuclear generation. But I wonder if either really can make the "zero" claim.

Stuart Staniford said...


Jerome is definitely a voice worth listening too, but I can't figure out a way to follow him in Google Reader. It's one of the problems I have with multi-author blogs like Daily Kos or The Oil Drum - I often want to follow one or two voices there, but don't want to pick up the entire feed of the site because it adds too much noise to my inbound news stream.

Hypnos said...

Bordoe: emissions accrued in building wind turbines are accounted for in emissions, which is why wind is zero emissions for generation, but goes up to 20g/kWh with lifecycle analysis.

Compare to 1000g/kWh for coal.

Nuclear is 50-60g/kWh.

Obviously, if new wind turbines were built with materials mined by electric equipment powered by wind power, emissions would get down to zero. So it is just an issue of scale.

chris said...

Stuart, I understand the difficulty. That's why I don't use a feed at all, I'd never get anything else done.
Perhaps you could contact him directly through TOD or the Euro Trib and share sources. I've been reading jerome for years and it's obvious he wants people to know this stuff.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the problem with domestic wind power is that we are failing to expand our electrical grid to the places where wind is abundant. Despite all the concern about revamping our energy resources, and getting off of imported oil, pretty much nothing has been done about *any* of our desperate infrastructure needs.

Nick Gogerty said...

A lot of wind is dependant on ITC (investment tax credit) and PTC (production tax credits), these are often resold as tax equity to other industries with excess income. a typical wind project may take 2-4 years to get permitted and operational. The collapse in tax equity funding in 08-09 and uncertainty of the federal PTC probably lead to a lot of this 2010 shortfall.

A good proxy for future wind generation is too look at applications to FERC to hook up to the grid. Most applications will fall apart but are a crude indicator of future interest, a bit like using architectural billings a proxy for future construction interest.

buck smith said...

Power should be generated close to where it is consumed. Long range electric power transmission lines are inherently risky, susceptible to attack by terrorist and susceptible to a bad solar storm. I prefer a good gas turbine or 3rd generation nuclear plant close to where I live. In addition to lowering cost by reducing transmission costs, these plants run 24/7 which is how I like to consume my electric power.

dfellis said...

We must make sure we have the necessary safeguards in place so we don't harm the environment, while trying to save it. Solar seems the safest as wind needs to come up with a design or method of keeping bats and birds away from the turbines. I know this will all get worked out in the end, we just need to make sure it doesn't get left out.