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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: How about Nuclear
By Master Kenobi on 2/5/2009 9:48:15 AM , Rating: 2
Not even close. France leads the world in Nuclear power, and Japan isn't far behind them. The U.S. is ranked fairly low because we have stopped building new plants for 50+ years.

RE: How about Nuclear
By Frazzle on 2/5/2009 9:58:36 AM , Rating: 2
Not true. While France generates a higher percentage of their electricity from nuclear power, the US still generates more in MWs by a considerable amount. Even though we haven't built a nuclear plant in years the US is still the largest producer of commercial nuclear power in the world.

RE: How about Nuclear
By Bateluer on 2/5/2009 10:27:24 AM , Rating: 2
This may be true, but I know France generates some 80% of their electrical usage from Nuclear, far higher than the total percentage of electricity the US gets from our nuclear plants.

Course, there are several projects that aim to build new plants, so hopefully they get built.

RE: How about Nuclear
By Master Kenobi on 2/5/2009 11:33:43 AM , Rating: 2
Yes. But I would prefer the U.S. generated some 80% of its power from Nuclear as well. It would certainly help with pollution problems by a wide margin.

RE: How about Nuclear
By Tyndel on 2/5/2009 5:20:57 PM , Rating: 2
Its amazing how hard it is to get a new nuclear plant created even using new tech. But we produce more then 50% of our power from coal and are running 600+ coal power plants right now and continuing to build new plants even if it is slowing finally (from 150 planned last year to 50 this year).

Over the last year wind and solar power generation has seen a large increase in efficiency due to new innovations however we have had a very clean source of energy that we could have expanded upon in the last 40 years. There are currently 104 nuclear power plants running in the US and they generate around 20% of our power.

Hopefully we won't let fear mongering stop us from exploiting a very viable clean energy source.

I mean comeon people we are still burning coal for power what is this the 1880s? We are hampering our electricity generation because of a lack of education.

RE: How about Nuclear
By Shig on 2/5/2009 6:42:03 PM , Rating: 2
Obama really wants to use nuclear power, but the latest price estimates for nuclear are totally out of the question. I think we are passed the point of thinking nuclear is 'scary'. (They recently figured out a way to run a nuclear plant with nearly 0 waste). It's simply too much money.

Not only is it too much money, the next gen nuclear plants would take years and years to finish, and that's if they finish on time / on budget which almost never happens. They can throw up windmills and coal plants in very short periods of time. You have to consider the time frame here too.

(America does not even have the manufacturing capacity to build the next gen plants either. So we would have to build gigantic reactor steel plants too). That is also factored into the cost of nuclear.

RE: How about Nuclear
By Spuke on 2/5/2009 7:05:44 PM , Rating: 2
If the price is too high, why are there still applications for new nuclear plants despite the so-called high costs associated with them? And there have been a few approved just recently. It's not the high price, it's the silly fear associated with them.

"We basically took a look at this situation and said, this is bullshit." -- Newegg Chief Legal Officer Lee Cheng's take on patent troll Soverain

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