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Our man on the moon effort

Technological breakthroughs are driving wind energy's progress.
Our man on the moon effort

It was said early and often during Tuesday’s opening ceremony: we need our version of a clean energy moon shot to ensure a prosperous world for future generations.

America has a track record of successfully meeting these undertakings head on. RES Americas held a reception on Tuesday night in a World War II museum, where the technological breakthroughs and commitment to build the tools needed to win the war effort were on full display. Our manufacturers churned out product around the clock, with the whole nation pitching in.  And of course, we did actually get to the moon.

As I look around the show floor, it’s clear we’re in the middle of doing it again.

Wind energy’s technological process has been staggering. To think of the old windmills we’ve all seen that milled grain or drew water, and then compare them to today’s turbines, it’s simply astounding. The 1940’s saw the first municipal use of wind turbines to generate electricity in places like Palm Springs, Calif., and North Dakota. Looking back at that technology, and what’s on the show floor at WINDPOWER 2016, it feels like our industry already has gone to the moon.

21st century American wind power has “virtual wind farm” software to analyze data and optimize efficiency. It has 3-D carbon fiber printing to make lighter, stronger, larger blades that harvest more wind. Technicians have an array of wearable technology to choose from that helps them perform their jobs safer and more efficiently. We can predict wind speeds far in advance and across wide expanses of terrain, so we can balance the grid and improve reliability.

And more advances are on the way. As evidenced during the Department of Energy’s Collegiate Wind Competition and KidWind challenge, young, bright minds are devoting their problem-solving skills to wind power. They’ll come up with the next big advance to lower costs even further, and make more wind more economical in more places.

What’s next for American wind power? Siemens and MidAmerican Energy are testing the tallest turbine in the U.S. in Iowa, built with a concrete tower. The country’s first offshore wind farm is expected to come online off the coast of Rhode Island later this year. North Carolina is getting its first utility scale project. Just 10 years ago, these projects would not have been possible. We didn’t have the technology to make them economical, to ensure operational success.

Now think about how WINDPOWER will look in another five, 10 or 15 years. It’s likely even today’s show floor will seem quaint and antiquated. And we should hope it does, because that would mean our clean energy moon shot has indeed hit its target.

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Greg is AWEA's Deputy Director of External Communications. He is the head editor and writer for Into the Wind, and oversees AWEA's online content and opinion writing. Greg holds a Master's degree in Global Environmental Policy from American University's School of International Service. He also holds a Bachelor's degree in International Relations and Journalism from Lehigh University.

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