You only need to drive the long, lonely stretches of highway in west Texas, Kansas, Nebraska, Ohio, Colorado or even parts of California to know that wind farms have become prolific across America. In fact, there are over 48,000 wind turbines spinning their blades in at least 39 states including Alaska, Hawaii and even in Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) released an Executive Summary on wind last week, including some interesting, but possibly ambitious, projections. According to the DOE, wind has become the fastest-growing source of alternative energy since 2000. In 2008, the report claims, wind provided just 1.5% of the nation’s total electricity needs. That jumped to 4.5-percent by 2013, a number mostly validated by the Energy Information Administration (EIA).
The DOE predicts wind power will jump to 10-percent by the end of the decade, then 20-percent by 2030 and possibly as high as 35-percent by 2050. The American Wind Energy Association agrees that a 20-percent market penetration is possible in fifteen years. On a global perspective, ExxonMobil, in their 2014 Energy Outlook to 2040 is not quite as optimistic, forecasting that fossil fuels will still provide approximately 70-percent of the world’s energy demand in twenty-five years, with wind and solar combined only generating approximately 4-percent of global demand.
Both reports agree that the next primary growth sector in renewables will be offshore wind, a technology more popular in Europe than the U.S. Although more expensive, costs are off-set by higher power generation per turbine.
The DOE report estimates a 1-percent increase in electricity costs through the build-out of 2030, but counteracts that with a projected longer-term cost savings of 2-percent over the next two decades to 2050.
However, the most recent renewable debacle in Germany should provide fair warning of what may lie ahead for any overly aggressive renewable push before it is ready, something the Obama Administration has been advocating heavily, perhaps as a more mainstream legacy than the highly controversial healthcare reforms of 2010.
While Germany pushed aggressively for more renewables, up to nearly 22-percent of total power generation in 2012 (17-percent of which was wind), they reduced their nuclear generation a disproportionate amount, and the grid wasn’t ready for the shift. Prices for electricity soared for both residents and businesses, with as much as 47-percent of the increase due to subsidy surcharges. Blackouts prevailed until they could offset the reduced capacity by firing up more coal and lignite to compensate.
In the U.S., it is estimated that wind and solar received approximately $50 billion taxpayer subsidies to date, and many companies receiving government funding went bankrupt, including names like battery maker A123, Abound Solar, Solyndra and Nevada Geothermal Power. As the saying goes, “Pioneers get shot.”
Not to mention the Achilles heel of wind power that nobody in the environmentalist camp wants to discuss, and the government has turned a blind eye toward, is the number of birds killed each year by wind turbines. In a 2013 article, the Smithsonian combined 58 mortality estimates to project their own guess at how many birds die each year for the sake of wind power. Their range of between 148,000 and 328,000 is one of the most conservative estimates available.
So while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Department has been lobbying to add 250 additional animals to the Endangered Species Act, bald eagles and other federally protected migratory birds can be found dead beneath the massive blades of wind turbines across America, seemingly without concern.
The momentum seems to be blowing behind more wind power, and all sources of energy will be needed for the future. However, even if wind reaches 35-percent of supply in the U.S. over the next thirty-five years, that still leaves substantial demand for fossil fuels, particularly natural gas. Hopefully America takes notes from what happened in Germany and doesn’t become overly ambitious too soon. Meanwhile, if the Smithsonian is right, 900 birds a day will continue to fall unnoticed, and that number will only climb with each new turbine installed. Indeed, there is no source of energy without consequence.
By Thomas Miller for Oilprice.com
More Top Reads From Oilprice.com:
- EU Energy Union Could Start In The North Sea
- Scotland’s Wind Dream May Turn Into A Nightmare
- Renewables Could Revolutionize African Energy