Wind Power Capacity Surges

By the early twenty-first century, wind power was becoming competitive in cost with electricity generated by fossil fuels, as its use surged. While wind power still was a tiny fraction of energy generated in the United States, some areas of Europe (Denmark, as well as parts of

Germany and Spain) were using it as a major source. Advances in wind turbine technology adapted from the aerospace industry have reduced the cost of wind power from 38 cents per kilowatt-hour (during the early 1980s) to 3 to 6 cents per kilowatt-hour. This rate is competitive with costs of power generation from fossil fuels, but costs vary according to site. Major corporations, including Shell International, have been moving into wind power. By 2002, Spain generated 4,830 megawatts of wind power. Spain's industrial state of Navarra, which generated no wind power in 1996, by 2002 was generating 25 percent of its electricity that way.

With its wind turbines producing electricity at 4 to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, Denmark by 2004 was generating 20 percent of its electricity from wind power. In the German state of Schleswig-Holstein, the wind energy industry has become the second-largest employer after tourism. More than 30,000 wind-power-related jobs were created in Germany by 2001, as private firms building rotors, towers, transfer stations, and ever more powerful turbines have sprung up across wind-rich coastal states (Williams, 2001, A-1).

Wind Power was developing rapidly in 2005, 2006, and 2007. Powergenerating capacity from wind jumped 27 percent in the United States during 2006, and was expected to do the same in 2007 (Harden, 2007, A-3). By 2007, wind power had become so popular that a shortage of parts was causing installations to fall behind demand. A new phrase in the English language, "wind-rich" describes an area with a relatively steady, unimpeded access to turbine-ready breezes.

Germany, the world leader, where the government pays above-market rates for all electricity produced by wind power, added 12 percent to its generating capacity between 2005 and 2006, increasing it from 18,415 megawatts to 20,622, or 4.2 percent of the country's electricity generation. Spain increased its capacity from 10,028 megawatts to 11,615 megawatts, 8 percent ofnational electric-power-generating capacity. The United States added 26.8 percent to its wind-generating capacity in the same year (from 9,149 megawatts to 11,603 megawatts), the third in the world, but only a quarter of 1 percent of the total capacity. In tiny Denmark, with 3,136 megawatts, the government eliminated most wind power subsidies. Compared to their populations, India and China's wind power capacity is miniscule, but the capacity increased 41.5 percent in India (from 4,430 megawatts to 6,270 megawatts) and 106 percent in China (from 1,260 megawatts to 2,604 megawatts) (Johnson, 2007, A-8).

By 2007, 60 percent of the electricity of Spain's tiny industrial state of Navarra was coming from renewable sources (mainly wind, with some solar), with plans to raise the proportion to 75 percent by 2010. At the end of 2006, national wind power resources stood at: Germany 20,652 megawatts, Spain 11,614 megawatts, the United States 11,575 megawatts, India 6,228 megawatts, and Denmark 3,101 megawatts (Fairless, 2007, 1048).

Wind capacity in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, where it can be combined with hydroelectric, has been rising very rapidly, from only 25 megawatts in 1998 to a projected 3,800 megawatts by 2009. During 2006 alone, Washington State added 428 megawatts of wind power, trailing only Texas in new installations. One megawatt of wind power can supply the needs of 225 to 300 homes, on average, each day (Harden, 2007, A-3). Randall Swisher, executive director of the American Wind Energy Association, a trade group, said the electrical grid in the Northwest is uniquely suited to wind power because of the dominance of hydroelectricity and also because of relatively reliable wind, progressive utility companies, and new state laws demanding renewable energy that require utilities, over time, to generate 15 to 25 percent of their energy from renewable sources (Harden, 2007, A-3).

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable Energy 101

Renewable energy is energy that is generated from sunlight, rain, tides, geothermal heat and wind. These sources are naturally and constantly replenished, which is why they are deemed as renewable. The usage of renewable energy sources is very important when considering the sustainability of the existing energy usage of the world. While there is currently an abundance of non-renewable energy sources, such as nuclear fuels, these energy sources are depleting. In addition to being a non-renewable supply, the non-renewable energy sources release emissions into the air, which has an adverse effect on the environment.

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