Team USA has the wind at their backs

26 June 2014 by Michael Goggin Michael Goggin

With U.S. Soccer’s biggest World Cup match to date happening now, it’s a good time have a look at these two clean energy powerhouses, the U.S. and Germany, in a wind power world cup of sorts.

U.S. wind power is able to harvest some serious energy from the breeze with the help of our vast, windy regions like the American Midwest:

Thanks to America’s world-class wind energy resources, a wind turbine in the U.S. produces almost twice as much electricity on average as the same turbine would in Germany on average. Due to our stellar wind resources and wind turbine technology improvements, U.S. wind energy costs are very competitive, priced at or below competing fossil generation in many regions.

Germany, however, sports an impressive wind energy portfolio, and has aggressively pushed for a new clean energy economy in recent years.

In Germany, wholesale electricity prices have declined 20 percent in the last year as zero-fuel-cost wind energy displaces more expensive forms of electricity.

Providing Germany’s wind generation in 2012 with natural gas generation instead would have required around 400 billion cubic feet of gas, 1/3 of Germany’s total gas imports from Russia.

Across Europe, wind generation produces so much electricity that replacing it with natural gas would require around 2 trillion cubic feet of gas per year, 2/3 of all natural gas that passes through Ukraine and 1/3 of Europe’s total gas imports from Europe.

European wind energy leaders Germany Denmark, Ireland, Spain, and the Netherlands have some of the most reliable electricity systems in the world.

Though today’s big match is limited to two challengers, mainland Europe has several strong contenders in wind energy, each setting impressive milestones that set the example.

In Spain, electric sector carbon dioxide emissions plummeted more than 23% in 2013 as wind energy grew to be the country’s largest source of electricity, as noted in The Guardian. Wind energy provided 21.1% of Spain’s electricity for the year, beating out all other fuel sources to provide the largest piece of the country’s electricity mix. Wind drove the dramatic drop in CO2 emissions as natural gas power plant output dropped by 34.2% from 2012 and coal-fired generation fell by 27.3%, even though overall electricity use was relatively flat at a 2.1% decline.

Portugal generated over 70% of its power from renewables during the first quarter of 2013, driven by a surge in wind and hydro power output. At times, Portugal has reliably produced more than 90% of its electricity from wind.

The Emerald Isle is now green for two additional reasons, as wind energy reduced pollution and protected consumers’ pocketbooks from near-record natural gas prices by providing 24% of Ireland’s electricity for all of December. The Irish Examiner noted on Monday that “The sustained wind volumes forced expensive gas powered plants off the system and this provided downward pressure on wholesale prices.” It quotes an energy trader noting that “The substantial contribution of wind energy helped reduce the monthly average wholesale electricity price by 5%.” The article further explains that wind energy played a critical role in driving the price of electricity down despite near-record natural gas prices. At times wind energy has reliably provided 50% of the electricity in Ireland, which is particularly impressive for an island power system without the advantage of large power lines to import and export power to neighboring power systems. On December 5, the output from the country's wind turbines peaked at a record 1588 MW, and another new record of 1769 MW was set at 6:30 PM on December 17.

Long a leader in wind energy use, Denmark’s wind energy set a new record by providing a staggering 54.8% of the country’s electricity consumption for the month of December 2013, as reported by the Wall Street Journal’s Market Watch. For all of 2013, wind energy provided around 33% of Denmark’s electricity. On certain days, such as December 21, wind energy generated more than 100% of the country’s electricity use, with the remainder exported across Denmark’s strong transmission links to neighboring countries.

Wind is a proven effective tool to reduce carbon pollution, and countries are using this proven technology to reduce their carbon footprint.

The following table shows that as Europe’s wind leaders ramped up their wind production over the last decade, the amount of carbon pollution they emit per unit of electricity production fell drastically. By comparison, other European countries (represented by the average for all of OECD Europe) saw much smaller emissions reductions. Germany would have seen even greater emissions reductions had it also not shut down its existing nuclear power plants for unrelated reasons.

Country

Wind % ‘01

Wind % ‘11

Share growth

CO2/MWh % change

Denmark

11.9%

29.1%

17.2%

-28.9%

Germany

1.9%

8.5%

6.6%

-12.3%

Ireland

1.4%

16.6%

15.2%

-36.1%

Portugal

0.6%

17.9%

17.4%

-32.4%

Spain

3.0%

15.2%

12.2%

-23.8%

OECD Europe

0.8%

5.3%

4.4%

-11.0%

Four European nations reliably obtain 15-30% of their electricity from wind energy – 4-7 times higher than the level in the U.S. – despite our superior wind energy resources.

 

So though we may lead our European neighbors in terms of installed wind capacity and available wind resources, there is always more work to be done. Globally and at home, wind power continues to grow at an impressive pace, and by keeping place smart policies like the Production Tax Credit and state RPS programs, we will keep up the pace as a global wind leader, an important part of the global clean energy economy.