DOE: Tech Developments Play Major Role in Strongest-Ever Year for Added Wind Power Capacity

The U.S. wind power sector showed signs of amassing strength in 2012, with 13.1 GW of new capacity connected to the grid—significantly more than any year previous—and wind energy pricing hovering near an all-time low, with prices for utility purchasers averaging $40/MWh. The new report that lays out these facts, released by the U.S. Department of Energy and prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, cites advancing technology that allows the energy to be captured in low-wind regions as one of the major contributing factors in the buildup of the wind energy sector.

“Technology innovations will continue to drive the costs down,” said José Zayas, director of the Energy Department’s Wind and Water Power Technologies Office, in an online question-and-answer forum for the public hosted by the DOE to address queries about the new report.

Zayas pointed to the specific technology developments detailed in the report: first, average turbine capacity has increased by 170 percent since 1998-1999. The technology has also scaled significantly over time; the average turbine hub height has increased by 50 percent during that period, while the average rotor blade has increased by 96 percent. The main driver for these changes has been the desire to more efficiently harness wind energy in places where the natural resource is low—and the technology has indeed had that effect.

“Industry expectations as well as new turbine announcements suggest that significant further scaling, especially in rotor diameter, is anticipated in the near term,” adds the report.

During the online Q-and-A, several questioners returned to the theme of another type of technology development, one widely considered germane to the wind industry discussion: storage. But the forum’s panel was united in its response to these queries.

“[The question about storage] is a red herring,” said Mike Bergey, president of Bergey Windpower, a Norman, Oklahoma-based manufacturer of residential-sized wind turbines.  “The line that you need storage to make wind energy work is a line repeated by people who don’t really like wind.” He added that in Germany and Denmark, where wind energy is one of the largest sources of energy on the grid, there is no use of storage.

Zayas echoed his sentiment: “We have to be careful not to believe that [storage] is an absolutely critical part of the solution in the near term.”

To read the full DOE report and watch the Q&A session, click here


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