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Green Building News

Wind Energy Is Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions

An industry trade group says that wind energy production in 2013 lowered carbon emissions equal to 20 million cars

Wind energy is still a small piece of the pie. While wind energy is a growing part of the country's energy mix, it accounts for only about 4% of the total. Even at that level, it's taking millions of tons of greenhouse gases out of the environment, a trade group reports.
Image Credit: U.S. Energy Information Administration

Energy produced by wind turbines in the U.S. totaled 167 million megawatt (MW) hours in 2013 and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 127 million tons, the equivalent of taking 20 million cars off the road, according to a report from the American Wind Energy Association.

The report paints a rosy picture of wind’s growing impact: a 43% decline in the purchase price of wind power in the last five years and an average growth rate of nearly 20% per year between 2009 and 2013.

Renewable sources of energy accounted for 13% of total U.S. production in 2013, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Wind energy amounted to about one-third of that, roughly 4% of the U.S. total. (Solar energy production is only 1/16 as much as wind energy production).

In all, the Wind Energy Association said, the total installed wind capacity in the U.S. is 61,110 MW, equaling the output of more than 50 average-sized coal plants or 14 nuclear plants.

In the last five years, nearly one-third of all newly installed electrical generating capacity has been wind, the report said. In 2012, wind accounted for 42% of all newly installed generating capacity.

Other findings in the report:

  • A typical 2 MW turbine avoids between 4,000 and 4,500 tons of carbon emissions per year (the same as more than 700 cars).
  • Wind energy saved 36.5 billion gallons of water last year, the amount that would have been used at conventional power plants.
  • Eleven states reduced carbon emissions by 10% or more with wind power, and more than 25% of the electricity in two states comes from wind.

One Comment

  1. User avater
    Dana Dorsett | | #1

    Wind power is still in fast growth mode in the US...
    ... and is doubling in generated output every 4 years:

    https://www.technologyreview.com/sites/default/files/images/tr10.wind_.chart_.1x429.png

    By contrast, PV is currently much smaller, but the generated output of PV is more than doubling EVERY YEAR:

    https://www.technologyreview.com/sites/default/files/images/tr10.wind_.chart_.2x429.png

    Given the much higher exponent to the PV growth trend, it's bound to exceed the output of wind power in the US in less than 5 years, and the combined output of wind & PV will be well into double-digit percentage of the US grid totals. If wind is 4% now, projecting the past 5 year trend onto the next 5, it'll be about 9% in 2019. But PV will be also be delivering 9%, almost all of it during demand hours when the wholesale price of power has traditionally been high. With a marginal per-kwh cost near zero, the combined output of wind & PV are going to be cutting into the capacity factors of existing thermal power plants, and delivering lower marginal profits for those power plants too.

    This reality has put those utilities unable to get beyond a "business as usual" approach back on their heels- their business model is broken. (In the recent PJM region capacity market bidding even existing nukes bid too high and have been allocated a lower capacity factor than they can actually deliver.) These factors has led Barclays downrating of utility bonds in markets where power is expensive enough to be under pressure from PV and wind last week, just the latest of a handful of financial institutions to clearly state that the renewables are gorging on fossil-burner lunch, largely to the benefit of the ratepayer, and at the expense of merchant power generators & utility with fossil-fired assets seeing year on year diminishing capacity factor (total output), and lower margins on that output.

    In Iowa wind is already bumping on 30% of all kwh shipped onto the grid (and still climbing annually), and with improved forecasting methods & smart wind farm control it has not affected the amount of spinning reserves required to manage the variable output. The amount of gas-fired "bridge" to a distributed renewables dominated future appears to be severely overestimated. As cheaper distributed storage starts being installed at any signficant rate it'll be "game over" for low capacity factor peaking units. But even before then wind has been slowly & steadily eating into the capacity factors of baseload generators in Texas. The notion that it will be many decades before renewables dominate, or that it's too costly for the rate payers & tax payers is proving to be just plain wrong.

    Next week the White House will be delivering the details on the carbon reduction plans. It's unlikely to be good news for the incumbent fossil fired power generators, and unclear whether it's good/bad/indifferent for nuclear operators. But at the current lifecycle cost of PV there's no future in new-nukes or new coal (PV is guaranteed to be cheaper than either going forward), and even combined-cycle gas plants may not fully live out their intended lifecycle in some cases, if carbon capture & sequestration is required at a future date-certain.

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