Last year, more wind energy capacity was installed than ever before in the United States. Wind energy was the top installed electricity resource in the country with over 13,000 megawatts added, yet none of that was here in the South. But a new report released by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory highlights the advances in wind turbine technology that make wind farm development here almost inevitable.
Turbine prices keep dropping. Turbine prices have dropped about 20%-35% since 2008; and average installed prices have dropped by about 10% since last year. Average installed price in 2012 hit about $1,940/kilowatt – and considering there is no fuel cost once a wind farm is built, new wind farms are cost competitive against coal, nuclear and even natural gas power plants. This is all while the domestic content of turbines continues to increase – simply put, about 72% of a wind turbine’s components are American made.
Turbines keep getting taller. The average turbine hub height (the place where the blades meet) reached 83.8 meters tall–up from 81 meters in 2011 and 79.8 meters in 2010. Over 1,000 turbines were installed last year that have hub heights of at least 100 meters, compared to just 128 installations that tall in 2011 and 17 in 2010. Taller turbines reach stronger winds higher up – which ultimately increases electricity output and increases profitability for the same land footprint.
Blades keep getting longer. The diameter of a wind turbine’s blade swept area is usually called rotor diameter, so it is approximately twice the length of a single blade. Average rotor diameter of turbines installed in 2012 was 93.2 meters wide–nearly 11 percent larger than in 2010. There were 3,193 turbines installed in 2012 that had rotor diameters over 100 meters wide. Like taller hub heights, longer blades reach better winds and capture more wind than their shorter counterparts. Turbines reaching 500 feet or taller are now becoming more commonplace around the country.
Wind farms are getting built in lower wind speed areas. The constant innovation in turbine technology allows wind farm development companies to expand their geographic scope to areas that were previously considered only marginally suitable for wind farms. For example, Ohio and Indiana are fairly recent new markets for wind energy development but those states had substantial installations last year thanks in part to newer turbines.
Across the country, support for renewable energy is exceedingly high. A poll conducted in March showed that some 71% of Americans want more wind energy. An informal online poll from Alabama shows similar levels of support – 69% of poll takers are OK with wind energy companies putting wind farms in Alabama. And now, new turbine technology and advances have opened up every state in the South for wind farms.