According to one of our great songwriters, Bob Dylan, “The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind.” His song was immortalized by Peter, Paul and Mary the day Martin Luther King gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. I do not want to take anything away from what those words mean and one of America’s greatest historical moments. However, I do want to build on Dylan’s legacy, by using his wonderful title and chorus, to answer another series of important questions.
- What is one of the most cost-effective renewable energy sources in the world?
- What renewable energy source industry has 75,000 workers in the US and could have 500,000 by the year 2030?
- What renewable energy source industry had only 30 facilities in the US in 2004, but now has 472 in 2012?
- What energy source contributed to 44% of all new electic generating capability in the US in 2012 leading natural gas at 30%?
- What is the fastest growing source of energy in the world according to the US Department of Energy?
- What energy source could grow to providing 20% of all US energy by 2030 according to the Department of Energy?
The answer to all of these questions is truly “blowing in the wind.” Wind energy, along with solar energy, will be the two building blocks of an alternative energy future. Germany is abandoning nuclear energy and fossil fuels and moving strongly into wind and solar. Siemens is leading the way, but they are not the only company pushing forward. Siemens has built the state of the art offshore wind turbine called Siemens 6.0 MW. It has fewer movable parts and will have a longer duration as a result. Even with that said, the first offshore wind farm which was built with 11 wind turbines off the coast of Denmark in 1991 is still alive and well over 21 years later. And, as Bill Maher likes to say, “Do you know what happens when an offshore wind farm collapses (as opposed to an offshore drilling facility)? A splash.”
Yet, General Electric is into the wind turbine industry in a heavy way. They are making double-digit inroads in Siemens’ market share in Germany, which is the fastest growing alternative energy market. GE has produced a low wind velocity onshore wind turbine that is gaining a lot of market share in Siemens’ backyard. Warren Buffett seems to like what GE is doing as he has invested heavily in them. And, they are not just making inroads in Germany. They are helping move the US wind energy industry forward as well. Not that they are all made by GE, but 70% of all wind turbines serving those 472 facilities in the US are made here according to AWEA, the American Wind Energy Association.
Just to bring it down to a local level, Duke Energy just completed two more wind farms in South Texas, the Los Vientos I and II projects adding 402 megawatts of electricity. They now have three in Texas, two in Kansas and one in Pennsylvania. Los Vientos I will help power homes in San Antonio, while LV II will help power homes in Austin. Duke added 800 megawatts of alternative energy in 2012 bringing their total capacity to 1,700 megawatts, which can power 500,000 homes. Not all of this is wind energy, but it shows where the future is today. I mention Duke often as they are responding to a state of North Carolina mandate that 12.5% of their energy has to come from alternative energy by 2021. They are permitted to trade off by developing power and selling it in other states, just as they buy excess power from local solar and wind projects from the likes of Apple and Google.
I am using Dylan’s song to highlight a key answer to our future energy concerns and address head on the impact of man-influenced global warming. I also want to point out that between Siemens, General Electric, Duke Energy, Nordex and other companies, there are real jobs in alternative energy which will grow in number. One of the benefits of the recent fiscal cliff bill was to extend the Production Tax Credits and Investment Tax Credits for this industry for one more year. This action saved 37,500 wind energy jobs. This is where our subsidies need to be as these industries build to scalability. Solar energy continues to get cheaper, especially with what companies like Semprius are doing as reported a few weeks ago in my post “Here Comes the Sun.” And, a key answer to our cleaner energy future is truly “Blowing in the Wind.”