Fact Check

Fact Check: Comparing American and European wind power is apples to oranges

Wind power helps saves money for American families and businesses.
Fact Check: Comparing American and European wind power is apples to oranges

The clear success of wind energy in the U.S., which leads the world in wind energy production, has forced critics to attack the renewable record of other countries because the evidence against them is so strong here. Thanks to America’s world-class resources, wind energy is now the lowest-cost source of new electricity generation in the U.S. While wind energy may increase electric bills in other countries, that is clearly not the case here.

Wind energy was the largest source of new electric generating capacity in the U.S. last year. It costs two-thirds less than it did six years ago. Wind also supports more jobs than ever, after growing 20 percent during 2015.

That’s why false claims that wind doesn’t work by an anti-renewable energy Forbes.com contributor and a Breitbart reporter, using a Wall Street Journal editorial about Germany’s renewable energy policies, stick out as blatantly misleading. Each one of the clips has something uniquely wrong about wind energy. We clarify their misunderstandings by sharing the facts below:

Apples to oranges

Most importantly, German and American wind resources and electricity markets are so different that it’s not possible to predict what will happen here based on what’s going on in Europe.

American wind resources are twice as productive as Germany’s. That’s one reason the U.S. created more electricity from wind than any other country in the world in 2015, and it also means that American wind power costs a fraction as much as German wind power.

A variety of experts and market data, including Wall Street investment firm Lazard, show that wind is the lowest cost source of new generation in the U.S., and adding wind drives electricity prices down, not up. For example, the 10 states with the most renewable energy have significantly cheaper electricity prices than the 10 states with the least amount of renewable energy.

Misunderstanding the issue

The Wall Street Journal editorial argues that Germany should be promoting wind power as its lowest-cost source of electricity, rather than pursuing polices that favor solar. So the Forbes.com contributor and Breitbart reporter are wrong to use the editorial as a warning against wind energy; the Wall Street Journal’s staff are actually advocating the exact opposite.

Wind power cuts carbon pollution

Around the world, fossil fuel consumption and emissions are going down due to the expansion of renewables. In Germany, there was a brief uptick in coal use and emissions after Germany shut down a large amount of nuclear generation earlier this decade, but emissions have since continued their downward trend thanks to the addition of renewables.

That uptick was an expected outcome of the removal of the zero-emission nuclear generation, which was due to the events at Fukushima and entirely unrelated to the addition of renewable generation. European countries that have added more renewable generation than Germany have seen even larger emissions reductions.

As shown in the table below, there is a very strong relationship between greater use of wind energy and a reduction in the carbon intensity of a country’s electric sector, with Europe’s wind energy leaders significantly outperforming the average reduction in electric sector emissions intensity for European OECD countries. Germany’s carbon emissions would have fallen even further had it not drastically reduced its use of nuclear generation at the same time for unrelated reasons.

Country 2002 wind % 2012 wind % 2002-2012 decrease in electric sector emissions/MWh
Denmark 12.41% 33.42% 41.35%
Portugal 0.79% 22.01% 30.62%
Spain 3.81% 16.63% 30.14%
Ireland 1.54% 14.53% 28.08%
Germany 2.70% 8.05% 12.78%
OECD Europe 1.09% 5.73% 12.49%

 

Another factor is that European natural gas prices have spiked due to geopolitical instability in Ukraine and Russia, a large source of European natural gas, making coal generation more attractive than gas generation and pushing coal use up. However, looking across countries, it is clear that adding renewable energy pushes emissions and coal consumption down, not up.

The facts are American wind power is the cheapest source of new electricity generation, which saves money for families and businesses, and it’s the biggest, fastest, cheapest way to cut carbon pollution.

Fact Check

Michael Goggin is Vice President at Grid Strategies LLC, a DC-area consulting firm working on grid and markets issues for clean energy clients including AWEA. He was previously head of Research at AWEA.

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