Picture: The jackup heavy lift ship "Sea Installer" loading up on the parts (towers, nacelles, blades/hub) for a pair of Siemens 6 MW wind turbines so that they can be installed in the Irish Sea (Gunfleet Sands). The nacelles (with blue "Siemens" logo barely visible) come in at around 350 tons, and they have to be lifted at least 90 meters above the sea level.
Another year gone, and roughly another $80 billion spent or so on wind turbines (technically that's called investment in real wealth creating infrastructure). On Jan 1, 2012, the world capacity stood at 237 GW, and 40 GW was added in 2011. Odds are close to 40 GW will have been added in 2012, pushing the total to around 280 GW, or roughly $500 billion worth of investment, including around 105 GW for Europe, ~ 80 GW for China and 60 GW for the US in terms of capacity. Does half a trillion dollars investment in wind energy systems mean that it is no longer a "fringe, "boutique", "alternative" electrical energy generation approach? With the vast majority of this investment done in the last decade (at least $400 billion), this should no longer be thought of as "alternative" except as an alternative to economic stagnation, austerity and recession inducing policies based on nuke and other fossil fuel based money extraction cons…. Oh yeah, an alternative to trashing the Global Climate Control system that was based on 285 ppm of CO2 in our atmosphere, but is ruined by all that anthropogenic CO2 dumped into our atmosphere at such a fast rate that we are now at 394 ppm and careening ever higher….
Of course, in this case capacity only refers to the ability to make electricity; what's more important is the actual making of electricity. It's the electricity made that justifies the $500 billion investment….The US happens to have higher yielding wind turbines than most other countries - partly a function of wind resource and partly a function of the types of turbines/age of these turbines. For example, average US output is now around 20 GW, while that for China is less than 11 GW (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_power_in_the_People%27s_Republic_of_China). Wind turbines now supply around 56 GW of electrify around the world, the equivalent to about 12% of what the US now uses, or roughly the output of 56 X 1.1 GW nukes whose "new" cost would be well in excess of $560 billion.
But, no rest for this highly competitive industry with so much potential to at least completely power up North America, several times over and at a real cost no other renewable energy with such capacity can come close to matching. One of the interesting developments to watch is the continuing evolution of Low Wind Speed Turbines (LWST)- tall turbine towers and longer blades strapped onto ever larger and more dependable generators. Turbine companies are now focused on "medium" and "low" wind speed areas that are more closely located to major population centers (electricity customers), in contrast to tapping high wind speeds that move over regions often thousands of miles from where customers are located. For example, Kansas could power up almost all of the US with its winds on an average basis, but that would also take a lot of new and very expensive wiring. It's cheaper for NY state to locate turbines attuned to low wind speeds in NY State in terms of delivered electricity, with only small amounts of "distant wind" for use when local winds aren't blowing sufficiently fast. And when you think of the economic benefits - property taxes retained, lease payments recycled and the potential of local manufacturing to once again be used to generate real wealth locally instead of exporting it to distant parts of the US or the world… well, that SHOULD make the sale. But with the specter of frackers and their legions of con-artists and fraudsters hawking dreams of easy money to politicians desperate to show the folks at election time with respect to something (who cares if it is mostly or all illusion, just so long as it makes the news) associated with economic development, one should not count on logic and truth winning the sale - see http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/02/dan-dicker-aubrey-mcclendon-and-the-destruction-of-the-natural-gas-market.html for an unabashed pro-fracking investor's take on the fraud-fest that goes by the name of Chesapeake Energy….
As for the low wind side of things, GE (http://www.ge-energy.com/products_and_services/products/wind_turbines/) recently unveiled its 2.5 MW x 120 meter rotor unit with towers as tall as 138 meters. This takes a page from the arch-nemesis of GE (in the wind business, anyway), Enercon, who for several years have routinely been mass producing concrete towers (http://www.enercon.de/en-en/755.htm) specifically made for big TALL wind turbines, such as their now commercial 7.5 MW by 126 meter rotor diameter system with its tailor made 135 tall tower. But, if you have inferior technology (small, 1.5 MW turbines on 80 meter tall towers), adapt or go out of business is one of the rules of the game. Besides, putting the nacelle 135 meters above the ground drops the sound level at the turbine base by 4.5 dBA (over 50%) at the turbine tower base. And isn't quiet turbines what anti-turbinites both want and fear - as in, what if there is nothing factual to complain about? Oh right, that's pretty much their present predicament, but it hasn't phased them or their fossil fuel and nuke based funding sources…..
As for the push for high yields, Nordex (http://www.nordex-online.com) is promoting a 3 MW version of their 117 meter rotor diameter N117 unit (the low wind speed version is still "only" 2.4 MW rated) designed for fast wind locations and a 3.3 MW version of their N100 100 meter rotor for really fast wind locations - like the US Great Plains. They want to stress wind turbines with average yields of 50% (these days, 40% is considered to be very decent), and are in the process of upgrading their existing models ("Delta Generation") for that, including their LWST offerings.
So much potential, trying to meet the hundreds of billions of investable money now sloshing around world capital markets like Toronto, NY City, London and Paris, more or less "homeless". There's a concept for you, "homeless multi-billion dollar increments". All it needs is a stable, sensible price for electricity and it is ready to be deployed on this next generation of wind machines, which have the highest Energy Return On Energy Invested (EROEI) of any significant renewable generation technology around (now well over 20:1, or less than 6 to 9 months operation in a 25 year lifespan).
So what's the big hold-up in NY State, where we just got nailed with a warm-up call from Planet Earth in the form of Frankenstorm Sandy? Well, state regulators, legislators and government officials are still addicted to Casino pricing for electricity - a variation on "ya never know" what the future prices for electricity will be. But to apply that to the wind biz is to add costs that impart no value at all, sand which can raise the price needed for wind sourced electricity by 3 to 5 cents/kw-hr. And for what - the sake of ideological purity with respect to failed neo-liberal economic doctrine which also favors short term prospects and natural gas (= fracking) sourced approaches to electricity production? Didin't the recent dope smack to the head in terms of a $30 billion (minimum) damage bill for just one hurricane turned nor'easter tell them anything? Oh well, economic myth and illusions are amongst the nastiest of habits to shake four NY's "decision making class", many of whom were never elected by anyone but instead selected by the beneficiaries of either inherited wealth or luck combined with pretty outrageous and rapacious wealth extraction from what is called a "criminogenic" environment.
All this and a lot more fine renewable electricity production equipment COULD really spark off quite the economic recovery in NY, could being the key word. A lot of it could even be arranged to be made in NY if we would commit to the replacement of the 13 GW of pollution sourced electricity we are now employing. It has to go, anyway, as it gets old, and the potential for really bad things happening (like our very own version of Fukushima (coming up on a two year "anniversary")) never goes away until these are shut down. Besides, what are we going to do with the 1 to 2 million NY'ers who could really use a job, and the 50,000 to 80,000 of them just in the Buffalo region. Evidently we are not so ruthless as to just terminate their lives, as was done with any hopes of gainful employment in the present permanently slack Economic Demand society we have devolved to. What's the problem? So far, not so many facilities are making LWST units and the taller tower (100, 120, 138 meters or thereabouts), and these are absolutely made for NY State's wind resource. Make them here and cut out a lot of money to haul them here, too… geez, local manufacture and it cuts installed costs, too….