New DOE report lays out blustery future for U.S. wind energy

With utility-scale wind turbines installed in 39 states, wind energy accounts for 4.5% of the nation’s annual electricity generation, with that amount set to grow over the next few decades, said a new report issued March 12 by the U.S. Department of Energy.

DOE experts revisited and built on the findings of the Energy Dept.’s 2008 “20% Wind by 2030” report to envision a new future for wind energy through 2050. Taking into account every type of wind energy deployment (land-based, offshore, distributed), the new Wind Vision Report defines the societal, environmental and economic benefits of wind power in a scenario with wind energy supplying 10% of the country’s electricity in 2020, 20% in 2030 and 35% in 2050, established through rigorous analysis and deployment scenario sensitivities.

This comprehensive analysis has a number of key takeaways:

  • As wind power becomes a larger part of the country’s energy mix and investments aim at cost reductions, the price of wind energy is projected to be directly competitive with conventional energy technologies within the next decade.
  • Wind can be a viable source of renewable electricity in all 50 states by 2050.
  • Wind has the potential to support more than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and supporting services.
  • By 2050, most wind turbine components could be manufactured in the United States.
  • By 2050, wind energy can help offset 12.3 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases, equivalent to $400 billion in avoided carbon emissions at current global economic values.   
  • By 2050, wind energy can help offset 2.6 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide, 4.7 million metric tons of nitrogen oxides, and 0.5 million metric tons of fine particulate matter, equivalent to $108 billion in savings from avoided healthcare costs and economic damages.
  • By 2050, wind energy can save 260 billion gallons of water that would have been used by the electric power sector, equivalent to roughly 400,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
  • With wind energy, the United States can save $280 billion in natural gas costs by 2050. Natural gas is currently used to help quickly supply power to the electrical grid during spikes in energy use, such as those caused by seasonal heating and cooling.
  • Local governments will be able to collect additional tax revenue from land lease payments and property taxes, reaching $3.2 billion annually by 2050.

In order to quantify the impacts and benefits of wind energy through 2050, the Wind Vision Report models three different scenarios:

  • The “Baseline Scenario” holds wind energy capacity constant, at the level of installed capacity at the end of 2013.
  • The “Business-as-Usual Scenario” factors in variables such as electricity demand, fossil fuel prices, wind power and other renewable energy costs, as well as existing transmission expansion patterns. Under this scenario wind economically competes as part of the U.S. electricity generating fleet, and with federal and state policies as enacted as of January 1, 2014.
  • The “Study Scenario,” derived through analytical modeling, defines wind contributions as 10% of national end-use electricity demand by 2020, 20% by 2030 and 35% by 2050 and all other electricity sources economically compete for generation, while federal and state policies are held as enacted as of January 1, 2014. The Study Scenario used current (as of 2013) and projected trend data to inform inputs, assumptions, and other constraints.

While the report does not make any policy recommendations, it does provide a “Roadmap for Targeted Actions.” The roadmap sets forth actions the wind energy industry, research community and others can take to accelerate the deployment of wind energy nationwide. The nine core “action areas” focus on technology advancement, grid integration, workforce development and other topics and provide a comprehensive framework for future wind power deployment and further cost reductions.

DOE said it worked with more than 100 companies and organizations such as the American Wind Energy Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Vestas American Wind Technology, General Electric Energy, Defenders of Wildlife, Renewable Energy Systems America, EDF Renewables, Arcadia Windpower, the University of Iowa, PJM Interconnection, the academic sector, and its own National Laboratories to develop this vision for America’s wind energy future.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.