In a report released by the U.S. Department of Energy, North Dakota has been named as one of the leading states in the production of wind energy. This is achieved through the utilization of powerful wind turbines, generating thousands of megawatts of wind capacity in 2017. North Dakota, along with the rest of the states responsible for generating wind power, contributed 25% of all 2017 capacity.
Wind Power Technology Trends
The 2017 Wind Technologies Market Report discovered wind power made up the third-largest source of power producer, right behind solar and natural gas. Turbine engineering technology has significantly improved. To make wind energy growth attractive to utility and commercial purchasers, turbine efficiency and lowering the price of installation was necessary.
Engineers began developing larger turbine hubs and rotors to improve the average wind project performance. In 2017, the average U.S. rotor diameter alone reached 367 feet. But, is bigger always better? In the case of wind turbines, the answer seems to be yes. Larger turbines boost wind capacity by harvesting more energy at a steadier pace. Thus, making them more reliable and easier to integrate into the power grid.
Notably, wind capacity is up significantly at 42.6% from projects built in 2014/2015 when compared to 32.1% from projects built from 2004 to 2011 and 25.4% from projects built from 1998 to 2001.
The increase in rotor size has proven to significantly improve wind energy production. In addition, turbines crafted specifically for lower wind speeds are being moved to higher wind speed project sites. Optimized turbine designs and strategic placements have paid off in that wind project performance has dramatically increased overall while installation costs have been reduced.
Among other technological improvements, companies like SPI Borescopes, have devised a method of non-destructive inspections with cutting-edge articulating video borescopes. These specialized tools make the inspection of wind power turbines cost-effective and efficient. Wind turbine technicians can easily see inside of gearboxes to determine if corrosion, build-up, or cracks are the source of the problem.
Wind Turbines Benefit the Energy Sector & Economy
In 2017, nearly $11 billion was invested in new wind energy project sites. Favorable tax policy in conjunction with the reduction of overall wind turbine installation prices, allowed the total wind power capacity to reach 88,973 MW. The U.S. wind power production permitted the country to hold onto its position as second-leading wind energy producer in the market, just behind China.
Electric companies around the country represented nearly 45% of all off-takers of wind energy in 2017. Retail purchasers accounted for 24%, while merchant/quasi-merchant projects represented 20%, and power marketers made up 6% of off-take arrangements.
Many U.S. manufacturers employed hundreds of thousands of full-time workers in the domestic wind sector manufacturing facilities. Turbine supplier profitability has remained steady throughout the recent years.
The Future of U.S. Wind Energy Production
Future project projections are expected to increase rapidly in the near future but may start declining afterward. This is chiefly due to the production tax credit (PTC) being phased out. The PTC has been one of the main driving factors behind the increase of wind power deployment. As it stands, projects beginning in 2018 will only receive 60% of the PTC, which drops to 40% in 2019.
The IRS issued Notice 2016-31, allowing companies to complete each project within four years without needing to prove continuous construction. This allowance ends in 2020.
Another factor impacting the future of U.S. wind energy production is the associated costs of integrating wind energy into the grid. Grid system operators and engineers continue to make improvements in the transmission of wind energy penetrations.
These improvements would make the future of U.S. wind energy production seem incredibly bright and profitable; however, the future still remains largely unknown. Wind energy output is at an all-time high, but it has yet to reach its full potential. Lower turbine installation project costs coupled with turbine technology improvements and changes in renewable energy state policy may lead to an increase in project deployments over the years to come.