Blowing in the Wind

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.”

12 thoughts on “Blowing in the Wind

  1. Great blog, my friend. I am pleased to hear that subsidies to clean energy will be continued for another year — though they requested a ten year approval. But we have to take what we can get and they might have disappeared altogether.

  2. We have lots of both solar and wind power in Calif, and have had for years. The new technology is an order of magnitude more efficient and less intrusive than the past, and getting better every day. It is only the deep pockets of the oil lobbyists that are slowing down further development.

    • Your state has been a leader on this. Ironically, some neat things are going right under the noses of the oil/ gas industry in Texas. I do worry about the new Governor, who like, not being able to stop hos GOP legislature from getting rid of the 12.5% requirement. They already overturned a veto on fracking by one misentered vote that thet would not let be changed to her intention. Thanks for your comments. BTG

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. I think we don’t celebrate the good things happening enough, so people are largely unaware that solar and wind are making huge progress here. Thanks, BTG

  3. Part of the renewable energy phenomenon is our society’s move away from big-solutions (usually organized by big-utilities-business) to small solutions. Certainly wind-farms and solar-farms still fit into the big-solution model, but with net-metering any home/land owner can put up a wind-mill (assuming certain physics and local regulations), solar panels on their roof, etc. and either generate their own off-grid energy, or grid-tied energy. We put up a solar hot water system about five years ago and have more and hotter water than when we heated our water with electricity. We are not yet set up to return electricity to the grid, but we are at least drawing less from it. For Barney’s state, my suggestion of a great place to put solar panels (PVC) is over the canals running from N. CA to S. CA. Lots of open real estate waiting to generate electricity. And, the shade from the solar panels might reduce the amount of water that evaporates along hte canal route. Maybe that solution is just too obvious.

    • Great comments. I agree that many of the solutions are a confederation of small projects. There is a guy in Catawba County, NC that I wrote about in the summer, who has used many different eco-energy solutions on different parts of the land he oversees from solar to wind to recycled wood products for pallets, etc. We need to celebrate and communicate these ideas – like yours – as they are replicable. Thanks for reading, BTG

      • Guess my way of looking at our (USA) society is that you an active group of innovators working on their small projects to use their resources and better their lives, and a lot of people debating who will win the Super Bowl.

      • Of course, it would be nice to see a good super bowl commercial about wind or solar energy rather than the attractive woman who does the natural gas commercials and does not know that she is lying about how safe fracking is. I think the innovators are always ahead, but they should not be so isolated on their success in this area. Thanks for your comments, BTG

  4. Pingback: Wolf In Sheep’s Clothing | hughcurtler

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