With the twist of two or three blades around a rotor fueled by movement in the air resulting from variations in atmospheric heat—we call this phenomenon “wind”—electricity is generated. Today, wind power occupies a sizeable amount of the electricity generated in the United States, and the output of this renewable source of energy is projected to grow greatly in the decades ahead. Supporting wind energy are the many standards for wind turbines.
The Status of Wind Power
When you breakdown utility-scale electricity generation by source, conventional sources of energy are currently responsible for the majority of the electricity that powers our homes and businesses in the United States. Fossil fuels total nearly two-thirds of the electricity output throughout the nation, and nuclear power accounts for another twenty percent.
The rest is from renewables, among which wind energy is the frontrunner in electricity generated. In total, in 2019, wind power had an electricity output of 300 billion kWh in the U.S., amounting to 7% of the electricity used in the country. This outpaces hydropower and solar energy.
Driving this production is, of course, the many wind turbines scattered throughout the states, which, at the end of 2019, operated at a cumulative capacity of 105,853 MW. Nearly 30,000 of this capacity is concentrated in Texas, which has grown into a massive center for wind farms. In fact, if Texas were its own country, it would be the world’s fifth largest wind energy producer. Factors that have driven the growth in the Lone Star state include not only the level of wind in the state but also its less restrictive zoning, taxation systems that encourage building, and robust transmission lines. Other states blessed with high levels of wind have also taken advantage of the resource—Iowa, for example, derives one-third of its electricity from wind.
Regardless of location in the country, wind turbine installations are driven by federal incentives, notably the Production Tax Credit (PTC) and the Investment Tax Credit (ITC). For wind power, the PTC provides a tax credit of 1¢–2¢ per kilowatt-hour for the first 10 years of electricity generation for utility-scale wind. For example, if construction of a wind project begins before December 31, 2020, the estimated allowable tax credit is 1.5 cents/kWh. Alternatively, the ITC provides a credit for 12%–30% of investment costs at the start of the project.
For a breakdown of all federal incentives for wind energy, please refer to this resource on Federal Incentives, Funding, and Partnership Opportunities for advancing the growth of the U.S. wind industry provided by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE).
Wind Power – Where it all began
The history of wind energy does not begin electricity. Instead, it is more ancient. As far back as 5,000 BC in Egypt, wind energy was harnessed to propel boats. By 200 BC, wind-powered water pumps found usage in China, and windmills with woven-reed blades were grinding grain in Persia and the Middle East.
In the 11th Century, people in the Middle East used wind pumps and windmills extensively for food production. In a different part of the world, the Dutch developed large windpumps to drain lakes and marshes in the Rhine River Delta.
In the New World, American colonists used windmills to grind grain, pump water, and cut wood at sawmills. Once electricity became a staple of life, in late 1800s and early 1900s, small wind-electric generators (wind turbines) were also widely used in the western U.S. The usage of these turn-of-the-century turbines declined in the ‘30s once rural electrification programs extended power lines to most farms and ranches across the country. However, it should be noted that these small wind turbines have begun to rise in popularity in the 21st Century (they are actually specified by IEC 61400-2 Ed. 3.0 b:2013 and the federal Residential Renewable Energy Tax Credit can be applicable to these turbines).
Wind turbines are absent in American history until the oil shortages of the 1970s encouraged the nation to look to alternative sources of energy. In response to this crisis, and with the support of federal and state policies that encouraged the use of renewable energy sources in the early 80s, thousands of wind turbines were installed in California.
In the decades that followed, federal incentives commenced the rate of installations of wind turbines that we see until today. For example, the Energy Policy Act of 1992 established the PTC. Throughout the 2010s, a desire to invest greater in renewable energy sources to combat climate change encouraged greater turbine installations. In 2019 alone, the U.S. wind industry added 9,143 MW of new wind capacity, which is only the third strongest year for installations.
In total, the share of U.S. electricity generation from wind grew from less than 1% in 1990 to about 7.3% in 2019.
Projections of Wind Energy
So that’s where we’re at now in terms of wind energy production, but what does the future look like for the industry?
The 10-year incentive provided to current installations and the drive to invest more in clean energy shapes a positive outlook for the wind industry in the decade ahead. While growth is projected to be greater for solar power, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, the total wind capacity in 2030 is projected to double, amounting to 224.07 GW across 47 states. By 2050, across 48 states, there is anticipated to be 404.25 GW of wind capacity.
Standards for Wind Turbines
In all, the U.S. wind energy sector supports 114,000 jobs across the country. Essential for the safety and efficient practices of these workers are the standards that support them. Such standards help assure the design of wind power generation systems and the safety of workers involved in their construction, outline the design of gearboxes used to maximize electricity output, outline power performance requirements, cover specific considerations in relation to the forces like ice and lightning, and even cover specific service elevators for use in wind turbines. You can read more about how these standards support the production of wind energy in our companion post here.