In 2008, the US experienced an explosive rate of growth in installed wind power capacity. During that time, the US added an additional 8,358 megawatts (MW) of new generating capacity (enough to serve over 2 million homes) surpassing Germany as the world’s largest producer of wind energy. According to the American Wind Energy Association, new wind projects completed in 2008 account for about 42% of the entire new power-producing capacity added nationally last year, and will avoid nearly 44 million tons of carbon emissions, the equivalent of taking over 7 million cars off of the road.
The year also saw a very rapid buildup of the wind power manufacturing base in the US to support the massive demand for wind turbine blades, generators and other components of a modern wind energy power system. In fact, wind turbine and turbine component manufacturers announced, added or expanded 55 new facilities in this country in 2008, creating 13,000 new direct jobs in 2008, according to the wind energy trade group the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The United States wind industry created 35,000 new jobs in 2008 up from 50,000 in 2007 and representing an increase of a 70%. In a highly symbolic milestone, employment in the wind energy sector has now surpassed coal mining jobs in 2008.
Because the US has lagged far behind its European competitors in promoting the development of indigenous wind power, the US wind power industry is dominated by European developers and turbine manufacturers. In 2006, for example, more than half of the US added capacity was filled by foreign turbine suppliers. The two largest US manufacturers, General Electric and Clipper, are positioned well behind the larger European firms. The global leader in wind power is the Danish firm Vestas (VWS.CO). It is the world’s largest wind turbine manufacturer controlling 23% of the world market with 38,000 wind turbines installed worldwide.
However as the US market has boomed, European companies have been moving production over here – the percentage of domestically manufactured wind turbine components rose from 30% to 50% between 2005 and 2008, according to the American Wind Energy Association. If growth in the US wind power market continues along this rapid expansionary trend the US wind power manufacturing base — both the foreign owned and the US owned companies — will continue to site new plants and expand facilities in the US leading to the creation of tens of thousands of new high paying jobs.
There can be no doubt that wind energy has made significant strides, and in 2008 has experienced a very rapid growth wind energy. In AWEA CEO Denise Bode words “Our numbers are both exciting and sobering. The U.S. wind energy industry’s performance in 2008 confirms that wind is an economic and job creation dynamo, ready to deliver on the President’s call to double renewable energy production in three years. At the same time, it is clear that the economic and financial downturn have begun to take a serious toll on new wind development. We are already seeing layoffs in the area where wind’s promise is greatest for our economy: the wind power manufacturing sector. Quick action in the stimulus bill is vital to restore the industry’s momentum and create jobs as we help make our country more secure and leave a more stable climate for our children,” she added.
This very rosy picture is darkened by the stormy economic realities that are strangling so much of our economy. The economic turmoil and credit squeeze that has thrown our economy — and the global economy — into a deep recession has also darkened the wind sectors prospects for 2009. It does not look like 2009 will repeat 2008’s record performance. Many wind projects have been squeezed by the inability to raise capital in the current financial climate. As a result a lot of attention is being paid to the details in President Obama’s stimulus plan and what funds are in there for investment in building out America’s wind energy base.
© 2009, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.