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The growth of the wind energy industry in the United States includes an expanding domestic manufacturing base, with 13 facilities that opened in 2010 and an additional 16 in 2011. These and older facilities are visualized by the map above using data collected by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL has compiled a list of many of the wind manufacturing facilities in the United States, but there are a number of small component manufacturers that are not included in these data.
According to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s 2011 Wind Technologies Market Report, a dramatic growth in domestic manufacturing has increased the percentage of U.S.-built wind turbines installed in the United States from 35 percent in 2005-2006 to nearly 70 percent in 2011. The American Wind Energy Association estimates that 30,000 American workers are employed at wind manufacturing facilities nationwide – part of the 75,000 total jobs in America’s wind industry.
Both U.S. companies and major international manufacturers are investing in U.S. manufacturing and U.S. workers. For example, GE has a parts operations center near Memphis, Tennessee, while Vestas has built a series of turbine blade plants in Colorado.
The symbols on the map show what type of manufacturing facility is in each location:
- “Blades” includes facilities that manufacture the massive fan blades used by wind turbines, with an average diameter of about 89 meters.
- “Nacelle Components” covers sites that create the internal pieces of the nacelle, or body, of the wind turbine. These include the drive train, cooling systems, and everything required for generating electricity from wind.
- “Towers” indicates facilities that exclusively produce the towers used by wind turbines, which have an average height of 81 meters.
- “Turbines” marks businesses that build whole wind turbines, or assemble the turbines using components from other suppliers.
- “Other” is a catch-all term that includes manufacturers of tools and equipment used to install and maintain wind turbines, and other industrial components used by the wind industry.
This map also illustrates the report’s explanation of where manufacturers choose to place their facilities. Although manufacturing wind turbines is a national industry, many manufacturers choose to place their facilities in the areas of greatest wind power capacity or near other established manufacturers. This map shows installed wind power capacity by state, and the areas of highest installed capacity tend to contain the highest concentrations of manufacturing facilities, as do adjacent states like Michigan or Ohio. According to the report, other considerations, including the availability of a skilled workforce, transportation costs, and state and local incentives for manufacturers, help explain why states that may not have major wind energy resources themselves, such as South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama, have also seen recent investments in wind turbine and component manufacturing facilities.
All the facts and figures used in this article are from the 2011 Wind Technologies Market Report, and more maps and data about the U.S. wind industry can be found at NREL and “Wind Powering America”, a site run by the Energy Department’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.