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Report: US wind market booms, but policy uncertainty threatens jobs

While policy prospects beyond 2012 remain uncertain, the US wind power sector was one of the fastest growing wind energy markets in the world throughout 2011, says a new report by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Published by the US Department of Energy (DOE), the 2011 Wind Technologies Market Report confirms the 6.8GW of wind capacity installed in the US last year put it second only to China. The 2011 US total was up on the 5.2GW installed in 2010, but down on the 10GW seen in 2009.

Developers are now scrambling to complete new wind power project to benefit from federal incentives, which are due to expire at the end of this year. As a result, cumulative new additions for wind power for 2012 are expected to be high, possibly exceeding the 10GW installed in 2009, the report says.

For 2011, wind power accounted for 32% of all new US electric capacity additions and represented some $14bn in investment. Overall, wind power now provides just over 3% of total US electricity supply - it provides more than 10% of total electricity generation in six states, generating over 20% of supply in two of them.

Meantime, wind turbine manufacturers continue to localise production with a growing percentage of equipment used in wind projects being sourced locally and domestically. This particular market is 67% up in 2011 from just 35% in 2005-6.

Ryan Wiser from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory however, notes that the domestic wind industry supply chain is currently under severe pressure because of uncertain policy prospects after 2012. Profit margins have been declining and there are concerns about manufacturing overcapacity. This could set the stage for more redundancies within the sector if demand for turbines beyond 2012 does not pick up.

The report also finds that turbine scaling has boosted wind project capacity, installed project costs have been pushed lower by falling wind turbine prices, and this, in association with improved capacity factors, is encouraging aggressive wind power pricing. Prospects for growth remain strong in 2012 but are less certain in 2013.

Written by Robin Whitlock 

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