Wind Power Blows Past American Hydro Dams and European Coal

Updated on
  • Europe installed more wind farms than any other source in 2016
  • U.S. wind capacity of 82 gigawatts passes hydroelectric dams

Wind power is making a comeback. One of the earliest energy sources to be harnessed by mankind has now overtaken coal-fired generation in Europe and hydroelectric dams in the U.S.

Europe’s wind industry was aided by increasing investments in offshore projects, while developers added thousands of new turbines on the breezy plains of Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, according to a pair of reports released Thursday by the industry’s main trade groups in the two regions.

“We’re on a steady course to double wind energy’s contribution to U.S. electricity with $60 billion in investments,” Tom Kiernan, chief executive officer of the American Wind Energy Association, said in an interview Wednesday. He expects wind turbines will supply 10 percent of U.S. electricity in a few years, up from about 5 percent last year.

With more than 8.2 gigawatts installed in 2016, the U.S. wind industry has supplanted big hydroelectric dams as the country’s largest single renewable energy source, AWEA said Thursday. Hydropower has dominated the nation’s renewable generation since before the Hoover Dam was completed in 1936.

Oklahoma installed 1.2 gigawatts of wind turbines last quarter, beating out California to become the third-biggest market in the U.S. And Kansas surpassed Illinois for fifth place behind the top two producers, Texas and Iowa, according to data from the Washington-based trade group.

Rising demand for wind turbines has helped lift shares of U.S. tower and blade manufacturers. Broadwind Energy Inc. gained 3.3 percent to a five-month high of $4.77 at the close in New York. The Cicero, Illinois-based maker of steel towers has more than doubled in the past year. TPI Composites Inc., a maker of fiberglass blades, gained 2 percent in New York Thursday.

European wind grew 8 percent last year, to 153.7 gigawatts, comprising 16.7 percent of the region’s total installed capacity. That was more than any other technology, driving wind past coal as the continent’s second-biggest type of generation, according to figures published Thursday by the WindEurope trade group. Gas-fired generation remains the biggest source of power.

With countries seeking to curb greenhouse gas emissions that causes climate change by replacing fossil fuel plants with new forms of renewable energy, investment in wind grew to a record 27.5 billion euros ($29.3 billion) in 2016, WindEurope’s annual European Statistics report showed.

The group said 10.4 gigawatts of wind energy are under construction and another 7.9 gigawatts are in advanced development.

While wind’s installed capacity beats coal in Europe and hydropower in the U.S, it doesn’t yet produce as much energy because it’s not always blowing.

“Wind and coal are on two ends of the spectrum,” Oliver Joy, a spokesman for WindEurope, said in an e-mail. “Wind is steadily adding new capacity while coal is decommissioning far more than any technology in Europe.”

— With assistance by Jennifer A Dlouhy, and Joe Ryan

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