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A recently built wind farm in West Virginia churns out power on a windy day. The U.S. took the lead in 2008 for highest wind production of any country, and is closing on the lead for solar.  (Source: Baltimore Sun)

The gains in wind and solar raise the need for efficient storage technologies as they are variable power sources. More efficient production and installation techniques must be developed, and much more research must be done to make the technologies cost competitive with fossil fuel and nuclear power, as well.  (Source: Inhabitat)
"The answer my friends, is blowing in the wind, the answer is blowing in the wind..."

In 2007, Germany was the leader of the world for total wind production.  However, in 2008, the U.S. was perched in the top spot thanks to strong growth.  The data also indicated that sometime this year, the U.S. will seize the lead in installed solar power.  The newly released figures represent the U.S.'s growing thirst for alternative power.

The U.S. increased its wind capacity by 50 percent last year to a total of 25 GW, enough to power nearly 5 million homes.  Germany took a close second with 24 GW of installed wind, while Spain took the third spot.  China took fourth place, but posted even larger growth than the U.S., more than doubling its capacity for the fourth year running.  If China continues this pace of growth, it will soon overtake the U.S. in capacity.

Steve Sawyer, secretary general of the Brussels-based Global Wind Energy Council, who released the figures, cheered the findings.  He states, "Governments must send a strong and unequivocal signal that the age of fossil fuels is over."

Globally wind power grew by 29 percent, to reach 121 GW total capacity.  As one of the most affordable sources of alternative energy -- being only slightly more expensive than coal and nuclear -- wind accounted for 42 percent of the new energy installations in the U.S.  Mr. Sawyer says this figure emphasizes wind power's competitive nature.

Currently, the wind power industry is slumping due to falling oil prices and a weakened economy.  The industry does have some protection thanks to subsidies and energy taxes, such as the guaranteed price premium in Germany and Spain.  Such initiatives have softened the blow dealt by the economy to the industry.

The new stimulus package that's being debated in the House and Senate would increase the amount of alternative energy tax breaks in the U.S. by $31B USD.  The tax breaks would help President Obama's administration achieve its target of double U.S. alternative energy production in three years.  The EU wants to increase its amount of alternative energy from 10 percent of the total energy production to 25 percent by 2020.

A separate analysis, conducted by Jefferies analyst Michael McNamara showed that the U.S., boosted by its sunnier climate, will overtake Germany this year in solar power production.  Solar power is still very costly, but increased mass production and new technologies have helped to slow drop the costs.

The continued growth of wind and solar, variable power sources, worldwide raises the necessity of efficient storage technologies.  Most storage technologies are still in their infancy, with many being prohibitively expensive.

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RE: Dubious honor
By afkrotch on 2/5/2009 9:15:45 AM , Rating: -1
About 1500 of them sitting off the coast of whatever state, so far away that no one can see them anyways. Maybe if we throw up enough of them off our coasts, it can help drop the wind speeds of hurricanes.

RE: Dubious honor
By Kougar on 2/5/2009 9:42:46 AM , Rating: 4
That 3.5MW is the rated capacity, wind is not always present or blowing at a sufficient velocity to generate this max rating figure.

In order to make wind farms cost effective they can only be built in highly specific regions where the wind is almost always blowing at a sufficient velocity. This limits where you can build those 1,500 turbines that would span a colossal area. If you built them off the coast beyond the range of visibility 1,500 turbines would create a massive shipping obstruction, assuming there was a convenient offshore shelf large enough to support that many.

I assume your comment was facetious, but just incase it wasn't the turbine blades would be locked and disabled during those kinds of winds. And assuming the hurricane force winds and swells didn't destroy half the turbines anyway...

Each turbine of those 1,500 are rated to last only 20 years, require yearly maintenance, and require a complete teardown/rebuild at the 10 year mark. Add the presence of saltwater and the annual maintenance/parts replacement costs only go up. To maintain such a wind farm they might as well buy a dedicated crane ship that would need to operate continuously to maintain the wind farm and repair the vast grid of miles upon miles of cabling.

RE: Dubious honor
By goz314 on 2/5/2009 1:24:32 PM , Rating: 2
In order to make wind farms cost effective they can only be built in highly specific regions where the wind is almost always blowing at a sufficient velocity.

A region not unlike the entire Great Plains. The winds that blow across the Great Plains of the U.S. are capable of generating more energy than our Nation currently uses. Virtually the entire area is rated at class 4 with annual average wind speeds of 5.8m/s at a height of 10m. Many areas within the great plains corridor have an even higher classification.

RE: Dubious honor
By Kougar on 2/5/2009 2:30:48 PM , Rating: 3
Yep, exactly. The only problem is the US would need major grid upgrades, grid expansions, and mostly new trunk lines to connect these areas and deliver the power to the demand.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all in favor for wind energy and especially US grid upgrades (which is interesting to see Obama mentioning now), but sometimes the costs to plug a remote wind farm into the grid can add a third again the total cost. This is a problem because wind farm owners are forced to pay these costs, since neither the state, county, or electric operators will do so.

If Obama gets the Federal government to mitigate some of these grid infrastructure costs, then wind energy from these areas would be much more financially feasible. It's not just connecting these farms, but adding enough line capacity to the existing lines that is currently a serious issue with some very big Texas wind farms. Some farms are running at half capacity just so they do not overload the existing trunk lines/grid until the grids problems are sorted.

Some of the issues also involte right-of-way for laying new trunk lines on land owned by neither the wind farm nor the government; obviously nobody wants massive towers built near them or on their land.

RE: Dubious honor
By goz314 on 2/5/2009 2:44:26 PM , Rating: 2
Well put.

RE: Dubious honor
By MadMan007 on 2/5/2009 2:10:54 PM , Rating: 2
As opposed to all those perfectly maintenance-free forms of power generation that don't need to be manned around the clock? Oh wait...

"A politician stumbles over himself... Then they pick it out. They edit it. He runs the clip, and then he makes a funny face, and the whole audience has a Pavlovian response." -- Joe Scarborough on John Stewart over Jim Cramer

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