As I explained in an earlier diary late last year, I finance wind projects around the world (as well as oil & gas projects) and so am happy to say that I do my bit to change our energy mix, and I am thus well-placed to talk to you about what is THE success story of the clean energy sector.
Wind power is clean, safe, and it is already pretty much price competitive.And it is a big industry, with players like Shell, GE, Siemens and - gasp - Halliburton.
(my calculations from various sources which I'll be happy to provide upon demand. I have modified some numbers somewhat to avoid giving out any confidential information when necessary)
As this is more a feelgood kind of piece, I won't bore you too much with wonky details (have no fear, there will be some!) but will provide instead some nice pictures, like this one:
Wind power does not actually use up much land - its "footprint" is really small (a few square yards per generator plus an access road), so it is a great add on for rural communities: it brings in income (a few thousand dollars per generator for the owner of the land), jobs, and it does not require to give up on any existing activity.
Wind power also is the amazing story of a heavy industry with dot-comesque growth rates:
(the stagnation last year is due to a glitch in the US - see below why)
And if you don't believe it is heavy industry, please reconsider:
(yep, that's just ONE blade)
(And that's how you change the gearboxes, offshore...)
And note the names of some of the largest manufacturers: GE, Siemens are present alongside Danish upstart - and market leader Vestas. I am sorry to say that Halliburton is present in the sector as well - their affiliate KBR has teamed up with Vestas for offshore projects...
On the sponsor side, you can now find all the big utilities, like FPL or AES in the USA.
It is still mostly a European story so far:
But the USA is only lagging behind for really silly reasons:
Construction is highly irregular, because the federal support mechanism, the PTC, is only renewed for 2 years at a time. So you see a rush to get projects built before the deadline, and then a lull as people restart only once they are certain that the mechanism will actually be there. In 2004, it was even worse: the PTCs for 2004 were only put in place (retroactively) in October 2004 - for 2004 and 2005. Almost no projects were built last year because very few sites are good enough to be profitable without the tax credits provided under the PTC, and very few developpers were strong enough to take the risk that they would eventually be reinstated.
The PTC works fine. Banks are happy to finace projects on the basis of PTC revenues, but the sector needs more stability in that respect. So if you want to help develop wind in the USA, lobby your representatives so that PTC is renewed for a lot longer than 2 years, as needs to be done this year.
Argh. I'm back into geek stuff, sorry. I said feel-good...
Just a few more things:
- wind turbines are NOT noisy (regulations saying the minimum distance to houses are more than enough)
- wind turbines do NOT kill birds (not in significant numbers)
- wind power does NOT require "back up" capacity to compensate for the unpredictability of their production - at least not until their reach 20% of total power production, which is definitely not the case in the USA. Denmark is at 20% of its electricity generated by wind and they are coping mostly okay.
- wind power deserves the subsidies it still requires to be built. It causes no externalities (no pollution, no global warming), and it actually gets less subsidies than other forms of energy (see our good friends at the International Energy Agency urging the end to energy subsidies).
- wind power actually creates more jobs per kWh produced than all other forms of electricity, and these are decentralised jobs for a good part (i.e. in your communities)
So get behind wind power. It is one of the ways to avoid an energy crunch (not the only one, of course, but one of the best).
(All pictures taken from www.windpowerphotos.com)