Burning Issues

Wind Energy

Wind Energy Has Come of Age

By Paul Gipe

The California Energy Commission now believes that wind energy is one of the least cost sources of new electricity generation. Other analysts agree. Wind energy is now becoming an important option for utilities throughout North America, Europe, India and elsewhere

Once ridiculed as a tax scam, wind energy has come of age as a commercial generating technology. In 1994 wind turbines worldwide produced 6.7 TWh (billion kWh) of wind-generated electricity. About half of that was produced in California's large wind power plants, most of the remainder from individual wind turbines and small clusters of machines in northern Europe. By the end of this year wind turbines will have cumulatively generated some 40 TWh in applications connected with the world's major electric utilities.

Though most well known in North America for the thousands of wind turbines lining three windswept mountain passes in California, wind energy is growing fastest in Europe. By the end of 1995 northern Europe will have surpassed California in total installed wind generating capacity and in the annual production of wind-generated electricity. Germany alone added as much new wind generating capacity last year as wind farm developers installed during the peak of the California "wind rush" during the mid-1980's. The wind industry's annual revenues exceeded $1 billion last year. More than half of that came from actual sales of wind-generated electricity.

Steady, progressive development of the technology has occurred in the past decade. Wind turbines are now ten times the size of those installed in the early 1980's. These machines, many with rotors 40 meters (131 feet) in diameter generate electricity far more cost effectively and reliably than their predecessors. It costs no more to operate and maintain today's 500 kW wind turbines than it did yesterday's 50 kW machines. This spreads running costs over proportionally more kilowatt-hours, lowering the overall cost of electricity.

Aug. 14, 1995


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