Department of Energy Wind Vision: An Industry Preview

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In this video the Department of Energy reports preliminary findings of the benefits, challenges, and realities that will face wind energy for the next 30+ years in this country.

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The video opens with the logos for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Wind and Water Power Technologies Office and Wind Vision. A map showing the wind potential in the lower 48 states of the U.S. appears.

A year ago, the Department of Energy made a commitment—a commitment that they, in coordination with key industry players, would lead the analysis of a long-term future for wind power in the United States. They were happy to report preliminary findings of the benefits, challenges, and realities that will face wind energy for the next 30+ years in this country at the conference Windpower in May, 2014.  The approach for the Wind Vision study was to develop a robust analytical framework that informs decisions concerning wind power's role in the country's energy future using credible, transparent data and analytical methods.

A graph appears, labeled "United States Wind Deployment." It lists 107,000 metric tons of SO2 avoided, and 82,000 metric tons of NO2 displaced.

Wind is already a significant portion of our U.S. energy mix. As of year-end 2013, wind supplied over 4% of all electricity demand, with 61 gigawatts installed across 39 states. The original DOE report published in 2008—"20 Percent Wind Energy by 2030"—studied a scenario where wind power's national installed fleet by 2013 was 48 gigawatts (GW). The nation has exceeded that scenario, with a cumulative installed capacity of 61 GW of wind power by year end 2013.  Wind is a mainstream energy source and its benefits are spread across the nation. As a clean energy source, wind has already helped the nation reduce its greenhouse gas, water, and air pollution footprint from the power sector. The 96 million metric tons of avoided CO2 in 2013 are equivalent to taking nearly 17 million cars off the road. And in 2013 wind displaced SO2 and NO2 emissions achieving approximately a 2% and 4% reduction respectively.

A new graph, titled "United States Wind Manufacturing 2013," appears.

The economic impacts of wind are also broadly spread across the country. In 2013 the wind industry supported more than 50,000 jobs with a supply chain of more than 560 facilities spread across 43 states. These jobs are in states both with and without actual wind deployment.

A shot of a wind farm at dusk, a wind turbine on a farm, and a wind turbine behind a school.

In developing this project, DOE wanted to envision a future where wind was a part of the average American's everyday life and could coexist with all of the various missions of the nation.

They envision broader wind deployment, including smaller distributed wind near homes and workplaces, offshore wind for coastal states, and land-based utility scale wind in new regions of the United States.

A man drawing a windmill.

DOE also wanted to document the history and progress of wind technology in the U.S. To learn more, watch this video to appreciate how far the turbine technology has come.

A short video plays. This shows the inside of a wind turbine gearbox. The video pulls out and shows the turbines in a wind farm, blowing in the wind. It changes to an image of the United States, labeled "Vision Scenario."

In looking forward, DOE evaluated a range of variables that really have an impact in changing future deployment of wind.  These include overall energy demand projections for the future and the path of wind technology development and cost reductions. DOE looked at all these variables to substantiate a vision that is grounded in an ambitious, but achievable study scenario that would deliver wind's benefits to the entire country. The vision study scenario is designed to more than double from today's wind share to supply 10% of the nation's electricity demand by 2020, 20% wind by 2030, and 35% wind by 2050. The Wind Vision study scenario supports achieving the president's goals of doubling renewables by 2020, and makes substantial contributions to the administration's CO2 reduction targets for 2030 and 2050.

A data chart appears, labeled "Annual Build-Out in the Wind Vision Scenario."

Executing the vision study scenario would sustain the domestic industry and supply chain at approximately 10 gigawatts per year demand in the near term, with significant growth potential in the out-years as repowering opportunities emerge post-2030.

A new image appears of the United States, labeled "Wind Deployment by 2020." At 10% wind deployment, 110–115 gigawatts are installed. At 20%, 210–230 gigawatts are installed. At 35%, 390–470 gigawatts are installed.

This vision study scenario would roughly double wind generation by 2020. By 2030 wind could be deployed in all 50 states with more than 30 states in the 1 gigawatt and over club. By 2050 wind could be supplying the nation with 35% of its energy requirements.

A montage of a parched desert, a doctor with a child, a newspaper that reads "Now Hiring," a manufacturing facility, and a wind turbine by the sea.

The nation faces serious challenges in meeting the energy demand and balancing other social and environmental challenges. Water scarcity out west; public health issues in cities, such as asthma; the challenges of job creation and economic development; and global challenges like climate change all underscore the importance of shifting towards a clean energy economy.  With these headwinds in mind, DOE made a calculation of the costs and benefits of wind power a cornerstone for their Wind Vision project.

A new illustration appears, labeled "Greenhouse Gas Reductions/Savings 2020." 9% savings is 180 million metric tons of CO2 avoided, 23% is 530 million metric tons of CO2 avoided, and 26% is 550 million metric tons of CO2 avoided.

When it comes to greenhouse gas emissions reductions, wind is an essential player for meeting the nation's greenhouse gas goals. The wind vision study scenario could reduce electric-sector CO2 emissions by roughly 9% in 2020, 23% in 2030, and 26% by 2050.

The illustration shows the years 2013–2050, showing 550 million metric tons of CO2 avoided.

But it's hard to appreciate those percentage reductions and tons of CO2. What do those types of greenhouse gas reductions translate to? The Wind Vision project followed the Interagency Working Group's "social cost of carbon" methodology in order to monetize the benefits of carbon reductions and found that the wind vision study scenario could deliver an estimated 520 billion dollars in avoided damages by 2050, roughly the equivalent of 4.2 cents per kilowatt hour benefit, equaling incredible savings for the world.

A new illustration appears, titled "Water Savings by 2020." 6% savings is 82 billion gallons saved in consumption, 16% is 241 billion gallons, 28% is 336 billion gallons.

Reductions in greenhouse gases are a global benefit wind power delivers; whereas water is typically a much more local and regional issue. Wind is much less water intensive than conventional power generation sources like nuclear, coal, and natural gas. Water scarcity varies by region, but regardless of location, wind's water footprint delivers compelling value to Americans. The Wind Vision study scenario could reduce electric-sector water consumption by approximately 6% in 2020, 16% in 2030, and up to 28% in 2050, saving up to 336 Billion gallons by 2050. That's the equivalent of half a million Olympic-size swimming pools' worth of saved water. The water savings will be valued differently in different regions, but in places like the dry west, where water is a precious commodity, every dropped saved is appreciated.

A new illustration appears, titled "Public Health and Environmental Benefits."

The Department of Energy is excited about the possible public health and ecosystem benefits they analyzed for the Wind Vision study. They know that sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, mercury, and other conventional power plant air pollutants have created numerous unintended consequences in the environment—ranging from increased incidences of children with asthma to fish with unhealthy levels of mercury and PCBs.

When sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and PM 2.5 emissions impacts are monetized, the Wind Vision study scenario could potentially provide savings of between 16 to 103 billion dollars in avoided damages by 2050, truly delivering benefits to future generations. This benefit is equivalent to 0.1 to 0.8 cents per kilowatt hour emissions benefit from wind.

The video pans across a scene of a manufacturing plant. The video is titled "Jobs in the Wind Vision."

Finally, jobs within the Wind Vision study scenario would be spread across the country, and that economic impact ripples through communities creating jobs at restaurants, gas stations, and grocery stores. By 2020, DOE's study scenario would result in 139,000 wind-related jobs, more than a doubling from today.

By 2030 the vision study scenario would result in more than 230,000 wind-related jobs and 175,000 jobs induced from the economic impacts of wind development.

In 2050 the vision study scenario would create an estimated 400,000 wind-related jobs and 295,000 induced jobs in communities with wind deployment.

A new illustration appears, labeled "Wind Vision Cost/Savings."

However, this Wind Vision scenario does come at a cost, but many will be surprised by the price tags. DOE found that electricity prices increased by less than 1% in 2020, to reach 10% wind energy.

In 2030, the vision scenario would result in approximately a 1% increase in electricity prices.

But by 2050 analysis finds that 35% wind could yield price savings of roughly 3%, or a 4 dollar per megawatt hour decline in prices! Of course, these findings are dependent on future fossil fuel prices, so there are a range of scenarios in the analysis.

A new illustration appears, labeled "Total Systems Savings 2013–2050." The data discussed has a +/- range of 8%.

System costs estimate cumulative costs from 2013–2050 for capital expenditures, operations, and management and fuel costs across the entire power sector. The nation will have to make investments to meet future energy demands with or without wind on the grid. Renewables like wind do entail significant upfront costs, but the long term savings in reduced fuel consumption justifies the near future investment. The DOE study found that the wind vision study scenario does not make significant changes incrementally in system costs between now and 2050 and in fact achieves about 3%, or 150 billion dollars in savings, primarily due to reduced fossil fuel consumption.

A montage of images of wind turbines, manufacturing, and wind farms.

So how can the U.S. get to that point? That's the question DOE considered when developing ideas for the Wind Vision's roadmap chapter.

There should be a continued push for wind technology cost competitiveness and cost parity.

The industry should maintain its domestic supply chain and deliver competitive prices to U.S. customers.

Offshore wind industry efforts need to launch successfully in this country and bring affordable wind power to the nearby coastal states.

The nation's transmission infrastructure needs to be modernized and expanded for all energy technologies, not just for wind only.

Regulatory bodies, non-governmental organizations, and developers can work together to create efficient, sensible permitting procedures, while still ensuring that project development remains considerate of local communities and ecosystems.

While the Wind Vision study was led by DOE, the reality is that more than 200 people across 75+ different organizations contributed to the analysis and drafting of the report. The Department of Energy is proud to share these preliminary findings with the public and wants to begin the conversation for how they, along with the help of the American people, could make this vision a reality. Look for the published final report on the website soon.

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