By Chris Brown, President, Vestas' sales and service operations in the U.S. and Canada
It's remarkable how quickly the future can arrive. For the long-anticipated revolution in renewable energy, that future is today. And wind power is leading the way.
The signs are unmistakable. On June 29, the leaders of the U.S., Mexico and Canada made an unprecedented commitment, announcing their historic pledge to speed the transition from fossil fuels and reach 50 percent clean power generation across North America by 2025. That's an audacious goal, and less than a decade away.
What makes the goal not just aspirational but actually achievable is the accelerating pace of the clean-power transformation dramatically reshaping energy markets. The renewables switch is on, and it's picking up speed. That's especially true for wind, which accounts for 77 percent of U.S. growth in non-polluting power generation in the past decade. Today, wind powers approximately 5 percent of America's electricity and is on track to quadruple to 20 percent by 2030.
Wind is winning in today's marketplace because its real costs are down more than 66 percent since 2009. Wind power is already the lowest-cost clean energy by a large margin, and its price continues dropping as technology and domestic manufacturing advances give customers an even cheaper, more competitive and cleaner energy choice.
In 2015, the low cost and long-term certainty of wind made it the #1 source of new U.S. power capacity, ahead of all other clean and fossil fuels. With wind's market momentum, reaching 50 percent of North America's electricity from clean power by 2025 is attainable, and could also save ratepayers on their electric bills. Indeed, in May, as incoming chair of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), I challenged the wind industry to push further, towards an 80 percent or greater renewable energy mix, which I believe is doable in our lifetime.
Economic benefits from a robust clean energy economy extend beyond reducing ratepayers' bills. Clean power is a proven job creator. Today, wind power supports 88,000 well-paying American jobs, surpassing the coal industry, and wind-turbine technicians are the fastest-growing U.S. profession.
Welcome to America's renewable energy future. As growing numbers of wind customers and analysts confirm, it's also the right side of history. Fossil fuel, conversely, appears increasingly on track to become history.
In its 2016 forecast, Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) reported "coal and gas will begin their terminal decline in less than a decade" as "the era of ever-expanding demand for fossil fuels comes to an end." By 2030, wind, solar and other renewables are expected to exceed fossil fuels globally for the most energy production, and attract the lion's share of $11.4 trillion projected for investment in power generation worldwide.
As wind takes the lead to meet surging demand for renewables, it's time to take on its challengers and show why wind will remain #1 as customers' most cost-competitive, preferred energy choice.
The surest proof is in the marketplace, where smart money is doubling down on wind.
AWEA's recent U.S. Wind Industry Second Quarter 2016 Market Report confirms more than 18,200 MW of wind-power capacity under construction or in advanced development. Major utilities have committed to 2,600 MW of new wind investment, including the landmark announcement by MidAmerican Energy, subsidiary of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Energy, of its $3.6 billion investment for up to 2,000 MW of wind capacity in Iowa.
This accelerating demand is being driven by the increasing desire of utilities and commercial and industrial customers to lock-in the competitive low pricing and long-term stability of wind power.
To usher in our clean energy future, the wind industry continues driving down costs with a number of key levers:
• Scale -- MidAmerican's Wind XI project represents the largest onshore wind power order in U.S. history, deploying up to 1,000 turbines to maximize economies of scale and generate the lowest possible energy costs.
• State-of-the-art technology -- Today's wind turbines employ the latest technology to boost output, reduce levelized energy costs, minimize down time and enhance reliability. With policy stability provided by the production tax credit extension, the industry can deploy bigger, better technology and focus on technology enablers, such as transmission, permitting and siting, previously not addressed in short boom-bust cycles.
• Smart data -- A voluminous stream of diagnostics from advanced wind turbines is being translated from "big data" into "smart data" to maximize output and cost-efficiency. Smart data also lets customers predict performance, yield and revenue, ensuring low cost and long-term business certainty other energies can't match.
• Service -- With expected wind turbine life of 20 years or more, service is essential for long-term performance. The wind service industry is transforming to a life-long, fleetwide partner to optimize production and customer return for full project life. Service providers today can ensure wind turbine availability at or above 98 percent.
Utilities such as MidAmerican, Xcel and Alliant, and states such as California, Oregon and Hawaii are showing their leadership by fully leveraging renewable energy to deliver clean, cost-effective and reliable power to ratepayers and communities. A dozen states currently meet more than 10 percent of their energy needs with wind. Commitments to grow renewables to 20, 30, 50 and 85 percent will speed those benefits across America.
That's what our future looks like with wind and other renewables. It's music to the ears of energy investors, policymakers, ratepayers and, increasingly, utilities. A new industry report cites an "unprecedented shift" in the U.S. power sector and "growing consensus that renewables are at the center of the 21st century energy system."
America's clean energy future has indeed arrived.
Chris Brown is Chairman of the Board of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), and President of Vestas-American Wind Technology, Vestas' North American business unit.