October 21, 2013

State of the U.S. wind industry

Developments in the wind industry point toward a sustainable future.

According to North American Wind Power, a new report from MAKE Consulting offered a good perspective on the wind industry worldwide. There are 270 gigawatts of wind installation worldwide, which indicates wind power is a mainstream choice for energy, according to the publication.

The 2013 Global Wind Power Asset Ownership report found more than 70 percent of top owners believe wind is a vital component of a good generation portfolio. Of these respondents, 85 percent are looking for ways to add value throughout the development chain with wind. MAKE found many in the industry are looking to position wind as the most cost-effective source of energy even without the influence of subsidies and incentives like tax credits. While these are good ways to jumpstart wind projects, they are not sustainable elements of a plan for long-term growth. The industry is quickly becoming less subsidized as time goes on, and as wind power becomes more affordable to install and use on a large scale without financial incentives. This is an exciting time for the industry, and requires innovation as well as techniques that have already proven themselves useful.

One direction many in the industry have chosen to explore is co-ownership. Utilities and other power producers are likely to seek opportunities to co-own wind installations with financial investors. This is a strategy that proves beneficial to investors and producers of electricity both.

The case of Massachusetts

Recent developments in the Massachusetts energy industry illustrate the possible future of wind power in the U.S. Recently, the state's largest utilities signed contracts, filed jointly with the Department of Public Utilities, to buy wind-generated electricity at very low costs. The price will be less than most conventional sources, such as coal and nuclear power, and is locked in for a significant amount of time. The utilities, which are National Grid, Northeast Utilities and Unitil Corp, plan to buy 565 megawatts of electricity from wind farms in Maine and New Hampshire. This represents enough power to run 170,000 homes.

If the contracts are approved, the contracts will save consumers money as well as present a cost-effective energy solution to local utilities. According to the Boston Globe, the projects are expected to begin operations between 2014 and 2016.

Long-term contracts of this kind benefit utilities, which receive low prices on electricity, and wind farm developers that can point to a long-term interest in their services and obtain financing for development more easily.

Paying attention to materials

As the wind industry advances into its future, all stakeholders in wind power must carefully consider not only the deals and development side of operations, but also the day-to-day workings of wind turbines themselves. After all, without working turbines, wind farms simply cannot operate. Developers who are entering long-term contracts, or are seeing a bright future for themselves for other reasons, should engage help in wind turbine maintenance sooner rather than later. It is important for all equipment to function as it should, and for all in the wind industry to engage in proper wind turbine asset management. A well kept inventory of turbines is as necessary as a big contract or a reliable source of financing.