The U.S. wind industry added more than 1,800 megawatts (MW) of new capacity in the first quarter of 2020, says a report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA).
In this period, the U.S., energy generation from wind, solar, and hydroelectric dams topped coal generation.
This was mainly due to the spring peaks and renewable generation and reduced electrical demand due to the country's lockdowns.
But this should not overlook the renewed efforts to ease out coal-based energy generation and a concentration on renewable energy production.
A market report from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory says that 9 gigawatts of new wind power capacity, representing an investment of $13 billion, was installed in the U.S. in 2019. Wind energy output rose to more than 7% of the entire nation's electricity supply, more than 10% in fourteen states, and more than 40% in two of those states—Iowa and Kansas.
The nine gigawatts power generation is slightly more than in each of the four previous years. At least 225 gigawatts of wind power is seeking transmission interconnection, 5% of which is paired with storage.—to tally up impressive year-end totals for the wind industry.
But as for the grid carrying that electricity, a little under 1,000 miles of transmission lines were built last year—the second-lowest amount in the last ten years.
The improved wind energy performance can be attributed to larger turbines and taller towers with longer blades. The area swept by the average wind turbine rotor has more than doubled since 2010. The average rotor diameter is now 120 meters, up from 80 meters a decade ago. The average capacity of a turbine built last year reached 2.55 megawatts. The height of the tower now averages 90 meters.
Moreover, 1,800 older turbines were retrofitted last year, mostly with longer blades.
These changes have boosted capacity factors. The report notes that the average capacity of turbines built-in 2014-2018 was 41 percent, compared to 31 percent from turbines built-in 2004-2012.
The newer generation of turbines is also giving a higher output compared to wind farms built before 2008.
An added factor to the heightened wind power capacity is prices, which have fallen to $700–$850/kW. The average cost of wind projects installation in 2019 was $1,440/kW, down more than 40 percent since the peak in 2009 and 2010. That brings the average cost of electricity produced from wind to $36 per megawatt-hour down from the $85-90/MWh range seen a decade ago. Wind has maintained its cost lead over natural gas electricity, although solar electricity has caught up in the last few years.
The national average of power purchase agreements has dropped to below 2¢/kWh. This average downfall has been aided by projects that hail from the low-priced interior of the country, where the wind resource is strongest. The federal tax support has also helped the cause.
The report says that wind power will gradually get cheaper. The transmission capacity of wind-generated energy power is still limited. Electricity from wind-rich areas in the middle of the country can't easily be sent to meet demand elsewhere. Without storage, wind energy lags behind as a big player on the grid.
The report points out that many factors affect the prices of wind power. Its market value is affected by the location, hourly output profiles, and how those characteristics correlate with real-time electricity prices and capacity markets.
The report says there will be a significant increase in wind projects through 2020 and 2021. Various forecasts show expected wind power capacity additions of more than 10 gigawatts in 2020. But we have to factor in the slowdown forced by Covid-19 and also the gradual phasing out of federal tax incentives for renewable energy.