Two significant developments highlight the growing global momentum behind efforts to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. First, China's central government on February 29 announced it will scale down coal and steel production capacity by 500 million and 150 million tons, respectively.
Second item of note: U.S. wind power capacity reached 75 MW in 2015 and generated about 190 MWh of clean, renewable energy in 2015 – enough to power some 17.5 million homes. Iowa became the first state in which wind power supplied over 30% of annual electricity needs, and Governor Terry Branstad sees that increasing above 40% over the next five years.
Notably, U.S. power sector emissions and nationwide electricity costs remained lower as wind power capacity rose. Power sector GHG emissions fell to their lowest level since 1995, while electricity costs were 5.5% lower than they were in 2009, according to the Business Council for Sustainable Energy (BCSE) and Bloomberg New Energy Finance's (BNEF) recently released fourth annual ¨Sustainable Energy in America Factbook.¨
Clean energy transition gains steam
China's latest attempt to cut overcapacity, GHG emissions and pollution won't come without some economic pain, though the government is taking measures to alleviate it. Some 1.3 million coal and around 500,000 steel industry workers are to lose their jobs. The central government has said the workers will be ¨reallocated,¨ and it has set up a 100 billion yuan ($15.3 billion) fund to help those who lose their jobs to resettle over the ensuing two years.
Coincidentally, wind power generation is rising fast in China. The country ranked second worldwide among nations last year as wind power production totaled 185.1 MWh. Germany ranked third at 84.6 MWh.
The amount of wind power also rose across the U.S. last year, increasing to account for 4.7% of national electricity generation. In addition to wind power accounting for 31% of Iowa's electricity generation, wind power supplied 15% or more of electricity in eight states. Wind power accounted for more than 5%, with Texas, Maine and Vermont producing 10% or more of electricity needs from wind energy for the first time.
Electricity costs have stayed below their 2009 level while power sector emissions reached a new low even as variable, or intermittent, wind power capacity has increased.
Growing use of wind energy is also generating good-paying jobs. Some 73,000 Americans had jobs in the U.S. wind power sector in 2015. The U.S. DOE estimates the industry could support 380,000 by 2030 as wind power increases to 20% of national generation capacity.
“The U.S. is blessed with world-class wind resources,” said Tom Kiernan, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). “We’re tapping into this homegrown resource more than ever thanks to American innovation and U.S. workers building some of the most productive wind turbines in the world. Now more than ever, low-cost, stably-priced, zero-emission wind energy is keeping our air clean and cutting costs for consumers. American wind power is well on its way to supplying 20% of U.S. electricity by 2030.”
Industrial customers paid 7.1 cents/kWh for electricity in the U.S. on average in 2015, lower than corresponding costs in other major industrial economies, including Germany, China and India, the report authors point out. In and of itself, that makes the U.S. a comparatively more attractive location for power intensive industrial companies.
“As states plan for low-cost solutions to cut carbon emissions, real-world evidence shows wind energy helps to reliably keep the lights on for American homes and businesses throughout the country,” Kiernan commented.
“We are proud of Iowa’s leadership in wind energy,” Iowa Governor Terry Branstad stated. Branstad also serves as Chairman of the national Governor’s Wind and Solar Energy Coalition.
“We’ve seen exponential growth in wind energy and the data released today reinforces what we’ve been seeing in every corner of our state. With potential to jump above 40% in the next five years, we are committed to building an even greener Iowa future that will provide our Iowa families with cleaner, renewable energy, and job opportunities.”
*Image credits: Smoky Hills Wind Farm; AWEA; BCSE-BNEF