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Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald

Michael is an assistant professor of finance and a frequent consultant to companies regarding capital structure decisions and investments. He holds a PhD in finance…

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Wind Power Finally Getting Out From Solar’s Shadow

Wind power

Solar power has been getting all of the proverbial sunlight for the last few years. Most of the focus and attention from environmentalists, regulators, and others has been on solar. There are numerous pure-play solar companies from SolarCity to First Solar. Solar is commonly used in residential applications today, and economic pundits fall all over themselves to talk about the falling cost of solar panels and the changing economics that entails. All of that attention has probably left wind power advocates feeling a little steamed.

While there are many pure-play public solar companies, there are few publicly-traded firms investing directly in wind farms or producing wind turbine equipment. Yet wind power is every bit as viable a technology as solar, and in some respects is a natural complement to solar – wind often blows hardest at night and on stormy days – exactly when solar is the least useful.

Yet for all of those advantages, wind power has simply never attracted the same fervor as solar has. That may be starting to change. While solar is very useful in some areas like California and Nevada, wind power simply makes much more sense in others. Recognition of that seems to be taking hold.

For instance, the nation’s first offshore wind farm is being developed off the shores of Rhode Island. Rhode Island is a natural place to take advantage of wind power thanks to its rugged ocean coast. The state is capitalizing on that geography with the nation’s first offshore windfarm. Once completed, the project should supply 30-megawatts to the region’s electrical grid, generating enough electricity to cover roughly 17,000 homes, including all of the tourist hub of Block Island. The project is moving ahead in competition with similar developments taking place in Massachusetts. These developments point to increasing interest in wind, even as solar continues to see support throughout the not-so-sunny northeast U.S. Related: China’s Oil Majors Are Burning Through Oil Reserves

Beyond states though, utilities also appear to be more interested in wind power. For instance, according to a press release, American Electric Power is looking to add more wind power to its portfolio. AEP’s renewable energy mix will be shifted more towards wind in the Midwest by the request for proposals to buy wind assets. The company is targeting projects that will be operational by year end of 2018, in amounts up to 100 megawatts. Projects have to be interconnected to AEP’s subsidiary Southwest Power Pool, meaning they need to be located in Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas or Missouri. Through SWEPCO, AEP currently owns 469 megawatts of wind energy, and plans "significant increases in renewable energy, including wind and solar, and energy efficiency over the next 20 years." This interest from once coal-heavy AEP suggests wind power is economically useful rather than just an environmental sop.

Wind power can play a significant role in power generation as recent events in Scotland show. Feeding into perceptions about the windy highlands, Scotland just announced that it produced enough wind energy to power it for an entire day. WWF Scotland did an analysis and found that stormy weather led wind turbines to create 106 percent of the total amount of electricity used by the country on 7 August – wind turbines generated more electricity than the country could use.

That situation, while exceptional, nevertheless highlights how wind power is changing the utility industry. For wind power advocates, these changes can’t come too soon.

By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com

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