Scotland and America quietly (at least here) show the way on wind energy

In one of the best kept secrets in America, solar and wind energy continue to make huge strides and are on par cost-wise with coal energy production. And, with total cost of environmental, health, acquisition and litigation are factored in, the renewables beat the pants off coal. This is a key reason in Texas, renewable energy is passing coal as the second largest energy source behind natural gas in 2020. And, as oil tycoon T. Boone Pickens said on “60 Minutes” early in the last decade, natural gas will buy us time, but wind energy is the future in the plain states.

The wind also blows in Scotland, especially offshore in the North Sea. Per Wikipedia, “Wind power in Scotland is the fastest-growing renewable energy technology, with 8423 MW of installed wind power capacity as of December 2018. This included 7800 MW from onshore wind in Scotland and 623 MW of offshore wind generators. There is further potential for expansion, especially offshore given the high average wind speeds, and a number of large offshore wind farms are planned.

The Scottish Government has achieved its target of generating 50% of Scotland’s electricity from renewable energy by 2015, and is hoping to achieve 100% by 2020, which was raised from 50% in September 2010. The majority of this is likely to come from wind power. This target will also be met if current trends continue.”

From Offshore Wind Scotland (link below), more update numbers on the offshore wind power notes, “We have 915 MW of operational offshore wind (as compared to the 623 MW in December, 2018 in Wikipedia) including the world’s first floating offshore wind farm, Hywind Scotland, and a further 4.1GW of consented projects in the pipeline. One of the largest offshore wind projects in the world, the 950MW Moray East project, is under construction in the Moray Firth and Kincardine Offshore Wind Farm, which at 50MW is the largest floating wind array in the world, is also under construction 12km off Stonehaven. SSE’s 1075MW Seagreen project in the Firth of Forth will start construction next year with 114 turbines utilising 9.5MW machines from MHI Vestas. Crown Estate Scotland will kick off the next offshore wind leasing round, ScotWind, with projects announced in 2020 and this should see the Scottish market rise to over 10-12GW by 2030.”

I recognize most readers will gloss over the numbers, but suffice it to say, Scotland is recognizing and capturing the power of its location to harness the wind. They set out a long term plan and went about achieving it, even when obstacles got in the way. What got very little play here is a golf course owner who happens to be the US president sued to stop construction of offshore wind mills visible from one of his Scottish courses. His company lost the case and had to pay the Scottish government US$290,000 for its court costs.

But, back in the states, Texas is not the only plain state taking advantage of wind. Iowa gets about 40% of its electricity from wind energy. Per Wikipedia, in 2019, the top five wind energy states are:

Texas (28,843 MW)
Iowa (10,190 MW)
Oklahoma (8,172 MW)
Kansas (6,128 MW)
California (5,973 MW)

California also leads the pack by far on solar energy at 27,900 MW in the first quarter of 2020, with North Carolina (6,400 MW), Arizona (4,700 MW), Florida (4,600 MW) and Texas (4,600 MW) filling the next four slots.

To put the two leaders in perspective, the Texas wind energy and California solar energy megawatts can power close to 8 million homes in each state. It should also be noted that electricity intensive businesses that run data and call centers, like Amazon, Google, Facebook and retailers like Walmart and IKEA are well ahead of others on the push toward renewable energy. Amazon is running TV commercials right now that say Amazon will be 100% renewable energy powered by 2025.

COVID-19 is harmful to people, but also is hurting the fossil fuel businesses. Quite simply, fewer people are traveling and buying petrol. But, the renewable energy business is less impacted as the focus is on homes and businesses. The Paris Climate Change Accord was not the only big deal that occurred in 2015 in Paris. Bill Gates led a group of 26 private investors and the University of California to form The Breakthrough Energy Coalition to invest in technology that will improve renewable energy and lessen our carbon impact on the planet. Gates committed US$2 Billion of his own money.

I mention all of this as this move forward is still underreported and underappreciated, at least here in the states. When I see US politicians funded by fossil fuel companies cry foul over green initiatives, the answer is simple. It is already happening due to market forces and it also happens to be where the job growth is. So, where do you want to invest your money?

17 thoughts on “Scotland and America quietly (at least here) show the way on wind energy

  1. It’s one of many ironies in what passes for “conservatism” nowadays.  Renewable energy is replacing fossil fuels because of market forces.  Those who remember fiascoes like Solyndra could argue with some plausibility that government attempts to hasten the transition are too likely to fail and that markets alone should pick winners and losers in the energy industry.  But contemporary “conservatives” want government to actively boost fossil fuels.  Too bad we can’t generate electricity from Adam Smith spinning in his grave.

    • Mellow, well said. Have you read Michael Lewis’ “The Fifth Risk,” based on the summary briefing books he was allowed to read by outgoing Obama departments for the incoming Trump people that went largely unread with no briefing. A reason is Trump was so surprised by the win, he did not have people lined up to take the batons, so we as a nation are at risk., as a result.

      One of those departments is the group that got notoriety for the Solyndra bad investment. He notes that the group is highly successful in incubating ideas and steering investment. It is so enviable that Morgan Stanley or Goldman Sachs would love to have that track record. This is what happens when you govern by anecdote rather than facts. Solyndra is highlighted as its failure sits between a huge number of successes.

      This group is precisely what we need from government as our country was built on a blend of government, venture capital and private capital. Thomas Friedman has an excellent book on this called “That used to be us: how America fell behind in the world it created and how it can come back.” Keith

      • Thanks for the pointers to the books by Lewis and by Friedman, which were new to me.  Friedman’s title brings up a huge irony.  Trump promised to “make America great again” but has actually accelerated the decline that began in the last few decades of the previous century.

        Glad to hear that Solyndra was such an outlier.  (As JS Bach’s *Peasant Cantata* illustrates, even JSB could write a clunker.)  A few memorable failures (or successes) may come to dominate the record as remembered.

      • Mellow, Trump is doing the exact opposite of making America great again. We cannot shrink to greatness. Harvard and MIT are suing the president to deny very smart foreigners from finishing their courses here due to COVID-19. These are the kind of people we want to make allowances for and hope they stay.

        Both books are excellent and should be required reading by every member of Congress. America is very exposed by how little the president and his team know about what is needed to run the country and the risks they need to worry about. Per Lewis, the Deep State are the people who know what they are talking about – they have been painted in very inappropriate light. Keith

  2. Keith, how inspirational to read your thoughtful musings on a subject other than Donald! Thank you.
    But, I’m anxiously awaiting your musingsofanoldfart on Mary Trump’s new tome. I’ve already ordered it from the local library here in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

    • David, some of the summary highlights are indeed interesting, but not surprising. His sister the Judge is bemused that evangelicals supported her brother when the only time he was in church was for a photo shoot, not unlike having the military part the crowd, so he could take a picture with a bible in front of a church.

      Back on topic, I wrote a year ago about one of Australia’s provinces being powered by solar blending the efforts of a French solar farm builder and Elon Musk’s battery storage. Is that live and how is it working? Keith

  3. Most interesting. Wind generators dot the landscape around us here in windy Southwest Minnesota but solar farms are popping up all over the place. It is very encouraging!

    • Hugh, that is great news. Minnesota is seventh in wind energy. Here is a paragraph from the website ranking the states that supports your comment. Keith

      “Minnesota’s 3,779MW of wind energy comes from nearly 2,500 turbines mostly located in the south of the state.
      The largest windfarm in the state is Buffalo Ridge Wind Farm near Lake Benton in Western Minnesota, which has a capacity of 225MW.
      Like California and Illinois, Minnesota is also looking to source all of its energy from renewable sources and have carbon-free electricity by 2050 with the “One Minnesota Path to Clean Energy” set by new governor Timothy Walz. “

  4. Note to Readers: One of the things that bemuses me is when I hear criticism of government funding help to people in need as the entities that have received the overwhelming government support have been the fossil fuel industry. Any first or second world country has invested in its fossil fuel industry as their has been a benefit to the users of such products.

    So, when I hear fossil fuel companies criticize tax incentives to further renewable energy, it is very hypocritical and self-serving. But, now what is happening is being driven more by market forces. The cost of renewables is now more compelling and better than coal energy in many places. My favorite story is of Georgetown, Texas, whose accountant mayor chose a renewable energy contract for the town’s energy as it was financially better than the fossil fuel one. Georgetown is 100% renewable energy powered and sits in the middle of oil rich Texas.,to%20be%20100%20percent%20powered%20by%20renewable%20energy.

  5. At times I am bemused at times irritated by folk who complain that wind farms spoil their views of the landscape, while not thinking through that somewhere landscape has been ruined for the mining of coal, the production of oil and nuclear power.
    Off the North Wales coast along the portion between the towns of Colwyn Bay and Llandudno there are wind farm pylons…they look quite majestic.

    • Roger, I agree. Majestic is a word I also use. More than a few years ago, a plan to power much of New England by offshore wind energy was thwarted because residents thought their view would be unduly harmed.

      I was once driving a scenic route back from Rochester, NY. Near Corning, NY, there are dozens of majestic windmills through the foothills. I took a picture they were so compelling. Keith

      • True. Too many stories of fossil fuel developing whether wanted or not. Having said that, a planned Atlantic pipeline was canceled due to cost overruns resulting litigation. Keith

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