As I shared yesterday, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA) expects wind power to grow from today’s ~25 GW to just 52 GW by 2030 in its reference scenario plus Production Tax Credit (PTC) extension. I think wind will grow more than twice as fast as the EIA projects. And here’s why…
Wind power capacity has been growing faster than 30% per year these last several years, with last year’s growth rate a huge 50%. While this year’s growth will slow dramatically from the 8+ GW of 2008 due to the financial crisis and recession, it will be much faster than the ~5% growth predicted by the EIA through 2030. And the economic recovery in 2010+ will allow wind power additions to grow to new records above 10 GW per year.
Let’s say the US wind market stagnates at 8 GW per year through 2030. In that case, wind power capacity would be approximately 200 GW (versus the 44-75 GW the EIA predicts). I think even 200 GW may be pessimistic, as I share below. But what rationale could the EIA have for such a low number? Do they think the US is running up against the wall of maximum US wind potential ~50-75 GW?
If so, they’d be wrong. The most often cited wind study on US potential was done by the Pacific Northwest Laboratory in 1991 whose results are posted at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) state by state projects listing. The study estimates US onshore wind potential at a staggering 1,200 GW (a more recent Stanford study raises the estimate higher due to the increased height of wind turbines since 1991). And just yesterday, Interior Secretary Salazar cited the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) estimate of 1,900 GW of potential offshore (1,000 Atlantic and 900 Pacific). Yes, you read that right: our country has 3,100 GW of wind power potential, thus today’s 25 GW capacity is less than 1% of our potential.
What if 2030 US = 2009 California
To develop a reasonable wind deployment number for 2030, I explore how much wind capacity we would have if our country deployed turbines by 2030 similar to California today. California was the original leader in wind power during the 1980s and 1990s. Over the past few years, two states with much larger potential, Texas and Iowa, passed California’s 2.5 GW. Within a few months, California will add .275 GW under construction to a grand total of ~2.8 GW. This represents ~40% of the 1991 wind potential study’s 6.8 GW estimate. To make up for the fact that California has higher electricity prices, I lower the percentage by half the price difference (since California has ~40% higher electricity prices than the nationwide average, I shave 20% off of 40%, getting 32%). Now let’s use the 32% number in relation to the rest of the country:
An equal portion of US onshore potential of 1,200 GW would translate into 384 GW. Since offshore wind is a less mature industry, we can leave it at just 1% of its potential by 2030: 19 GW.
By these estimates, wind power could reasonably grow to ~400 GW in 2030 (five times the EIA estimate and enough to provide more than 20% of our nation’s electricity).
Since a lot of this wind power will be harvested in less populated areas such as the Great Plains, building transmission lines to surrounding cities will be an important aspect of the effort. Thus there are green collar jobs from turbine manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and construction of efficient electricity transmission poised to help drive a sustainable economic recovery in 2010+.
EIA Disses Offshore
The EIA report estimates just .2 GW of offshore wind installed by 2030 even though 2 GW are already proposed here in 2009. European nations have already deployed ~1.5 GW of offshore wind, so there is little excuse for us not to build quite a few GW offshore (where the wind is steady and close to the large population centers along the coast).
The EIA has underestimated wind growth these past few years. And I believe they are repeating their mistake in their Annual Energy Outlook. Rather than a wind capacity of 44-75 GW in 2030, I see the potential for ~400 GW by just catching up with California over the next 21 years. While this exercise was somewhat arbitrary, it provides a reasonable estimate based on current technology that takes into account lower electricity prices outside of California.
Please let me know your thoughts on the matter, and we’ll see how much clean wind energy we are able to deploy in the years ahead!