Seth Perlman/AP

Popularity of Wind Energy Surges, But Recession May Slow Progress

January 05, 2009 07:26 AM
by Christopher Coats
As the United States takes the lead in global wind energy production, the world looks to the alternative fuel as a partial replacement for finite reserves of oil and coal.

Wind Power in 2009

The surge in American use and investment in wind energy reflects a global shift toward accepting and cultivating the centuries-old technology, which has only recently been accepted as a viable source of energy.

Even under an administration that critics have suggested favored existing oil and coal reserves for future energy needs, America’s use of wind energy rose 45 percent last year.

Proponents of wind energy and other alternative fuels are now looking to the administration of President-elect Barack Obama to further its use.

Although likely to adjust to the current economic environment, Obama’s energy plan currently calls for “$150 billion investment in clean technologies over 10 years,” according to CNET.

Worldwide use of wind energy hovers around just 1 percent nearly three decades after the first commercial turbines were constructed in California. However, spotlighting the potential for the kinetic systems, several countries, including Spain, Denmark and Germany, all include sizable percentages of wind as part of their larger energy plans.

According to a U.S. Department of Energy report released in early 2008, as much as 20 percent of U.S. power could come from wind energy by 2030.

Further, highlighting the overall potential of the alternative fuel, an earlier study completed by Stanford University found that, if harnessed, global wind power in 2000 could meet the world’s energy needs five times over.

Opinion & Analysis: Obstacles

Despite the potential, a number of obstacles still stand in the way of realizing the dream of producing substantial wind energy, particularly issues of cost and investment in the technology in the current economic environment.

In November, oil entrepreneur-turned wind-energy advocate T. Boone Pickens suspended the development of the world’s largest wind farm, arguing that in order to find adequate funding, oil prices would need to remain high, making investors see the immediate benefits of wind.

According to the Houston Chronicle, economic forecasters have pointed to the alternative energy sector as one likely to see a sharp decrease in investment and acceptance until the credit crisis eases.

Further, aesthetic complaints have kept turbines from finding their way into some communities, with residents wary of the often large structures and their impact on the landscape.

Most notably, Mass. Sen. Ted Kennedy was a vocal opponent of the construction of a wind farm planned for five miles off of Cape Cod in Massachusetts in 2006 because the 130 turbines would sometimes be visible from the coastline.

One previous obstacle, however, seems to be disappearing as the cost of raw materials needed to create, transport and process wind energy, such as steel, continues to decrease. However, the broader economy has meant an industry slowdown for the first time in Europe.

Currently, Germany hosts the majority of world’s turbines, which contribute 10 percent of the country’s total energy. However, China may be close on their heals with the announcement of the $700 million China Datang turbine farm, set to produce over 400 megawatts.

The alternative fuel push in China extends to other fields as well, with the announced plans for the Qaidam Basin solar farm, to be built by the China Technology Development Corporation.

If and when completed, the farm would eventually create 1,000 megawatts of power, dwarfing its nearest competition—planned for San Luis Obispo, Calif.—and making it the largest such farm in the world.

Related Topic: A variety of kinetic powers

In hopes of expanding the power of wind energy to every conceivable corner of the earth, some have sought to harness kinetic energy both above and below the sea. In addition to offshore turbines across Europe and the United States, wind energy proponents have also explored to power of underwater turbines, using similar technology to harness the impact of waves and fast-moving river currents.

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