What is wind energy? Is it viable in the United States? How can it work alongside our Oil and Gas Industry to help us continue to power our nation? These are questions posed by skeptics, critics, and proponents of wind energy. Although it is a fairly well-established industry in Europe, wind energy, and especially offshore wind here in the United States has only recently begun to see an exponential boom both in investment and encouraging regulation. As the world slowly moves towards a blend of renewable and fossil fuel energy mix, it is important for us here to learn more about the variety of ways we can generate energy and how it may impact our industry.
What is Wind Energy?
Wind turbines first emerged more than a century ago. Following the invention of the electric generator in the 1830s, engineers started attempting to harness wind energy to produce electricity. Wind power generation took place in the United Kingdom and the United States in 1887 and 1888, but modern wind power is considered to have been first developed in Denmark, where horizontal-axis wind turbines were built in 1891 and a 22.8-metre wind turbine began operation in 1897.
Wind is used to produce electricity using the kinetic energy created by air in motion. This is transformed into electrical energy using wind turbines or wind energy conversion systems. Wind first hits a turbine’s blades, causing them to rotate and turn the turbine connected to them. That changes the kinetic energy to rotational energy, by moving a shaft which is connected to a generator, and thereby producing electrical energy through electromagnetism.
Today, there is now 743 GW of wind power capacity worldwide, helping to avoid over 1.1 billion tonnes of CO2 globally – equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of South America. Global onshore and offshore wind power potential at commercial turbine hub heights could provide 840,000 TWh of electricity annually. Total global electricity consumption from all sources in 2018 was about 23,398 TWh. So, what is happening with wind energy in the United States?
The US and Wind Energy
The United States has seen an exponential increase in wind energy, particularly onshore. Total annual U.S. electricity generation from wind energy increased from about 6 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) in 2000 to about 380 billion kWh in 2021. In 2021, wind turbines were the source of about 9.2% of total U.S. utility-scale electricity generation. Utility scale includes facilities with at least one megawatt (1,000 kilowatts) of electricity generation capacity.
Wind is now America’s top renewable source of electricity generation. 2020 in particular was a banner year for wind power in the U.S., with more capacity installed in the final quarter of 2020 alone than in all of 2019. Now, the total capacity exceeds 120,000 MW, enough to power about 38 million homes.
Where is all this growth coming from?
Essentially all of that growth was in the onshore wind sector. Developers are planning more offshore projects for the coming years, too. And they’re pioneering advances in the field along the way, like the development of increasingly huge turbines, with individual blades larger than football fields. The potential for growth in Wind energy capacity is also backed by key statistics that show its future use.
In fact, the annual continental U.S. wind potential of 68,000 TWh greatly exceeds annual U.S. electricity consumption of 3,802 TWh. A recent study by the U.S. Department of Energy found wind could provide 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030 and 35% by 2050. Much of the countries wind capacity is on land. However, the current administration is focusing on building the coasts with a goal of getting 30 gigawatts of offshore wind energy online by the end of the decade, even though many of the biggest projects won’t come online until 2024 the earliest.
With so much potential, and already a strong industry, how will the US continue to push Wind Energy projects and output and most importantly, how will this work alongside an already important and key energy producing industry- Oil and Gas?
Oil and Wind, can they work together?
Over the past 2 years, the Biden Administration has pushed for more legislation and actions that promote wind energy projects both onshore, and especially offshore. This includes incentives for both consumers and producers. In fact, several federal government tax credits, grants, and loan programs are available for qualifying renewable energy technologies and projects. The federal tax incentives, or credits, for qualifying renewable energy projects or equipment include the Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit (PTC), the Investment Tax Credit (ITC), the Residential Energy Credit, and the Modified Accelerated Cost-Recovery System (MACRS). There are even financial products available for sale, purchase, or trade that allow a purchaser to pay for renewable energy production without directly obtaining the energy from renewable energy sources.
All of these incentives for wind energy whilst the Oil and Gas industry is on its knees needing a break from this administration is not a recipe for a symbiotic relationship. The Oil and Gas industry is still by far the most important energy producing industry in the United States and during these times of turmoil in energy prices is when there should be a greater push to both enhance this one and allow for new technologies and renewable energies to develop. There are also many current Oil and Gas companies who want to invest and develop wind energy. Whether they want to invest in this sector as a subsidiary to their main business as a way to use existing rig infrastructure for power generation, or to power the hydrocarbon extraction processes, there is undoubtedly a desire for the two sectors to form closer alliances.
A look towards the future
Even though analysts argue that the use of solely renewable energy in the United States is achievable, nobody believes or has written that this is achievable until at least 2030-2050. Until then, Oil must be used to power our factories and cars, and gas must be used to power our homes. Together, they must also help us build the capacity for a renewable energy infrastructure and even once that is built, there will always be a need for Oil and Gas in some capacity. Wind Energy is promising, and it is feasible, but it will need Oil and Gas to help it and we will need both if we want to build a sustainable future…