Monday, April 28, 2008

Wind energy: feasibility vs policy issues in the US

Clean energy has been the career option for me ever since I took up Power Engineering for undergrad studies. In my country, India, renewables are getting a fair share of impetus from the government and wind energy company Suzlon has put the country on the world map. Of all the renewables, wind energy is the most cost effective and efficient technology so far and I feel the sector will go a long way in addressing all the energy issues. I decided to do a feasibility study for wind energy sector in US when I came over for grad studies here. Class 4 thru class 6 areas having 16 thru 20miles per hour wind speed, are viable for setting up wind farms. I was glad to find that there are several such areas and wind energy is a highly feasible proposition in US and Texas leads the country in wind energy installations. US Department of Energy studies have concluded wind harvested in just three of the fifty U.S. states could provide enough electricity to power the entire nation, and that offshore wind farms could do the same job.

However, despite all the talk on the energy crunch and the need to reduce dependence on conventional energy sources (on account of their depletion as well as the environmental degradation they cause), the renewable scenario in US has not exhibited the kind of growth it should have. Why hasn’t US replicated the German scenario in the use of renewables? Is the reason lack of comparable technical feasibility or policy issues?

Lack of governmental policy support is indeed the culprit. I researched the scenario in Germany which is the global leader in harnessing wind energy with 32% of the total world capacity and the evidence was conclusive. “In Germany, the Renewable Energy Sources Act (EEG) guarantees for 20 years a specified minimum fee for electricity from renewable energies. This system of feed-in –tariff commits grid operators to the priority purchase of electricity from renewables. The costs of the higher feed-in rates are distributed among all electricity consumers. This system gives incentive to people setting up renewable energy plants. To keep those entrepreneurs on their toes, there are different design options including tariff degression; this reduces the rates each year -- meaning for example that a wind farm gets a lower rate if you install next year than if you install this year. this encourages swift take-up; two, it encourages manufacturers indirectly to increase design efficiency. If you are going to receive a lower rate, you want to generate more electricity. This drives innovation, making renewable energy a more rapidly evolving field”( Miguel Mendonca, World Future Council. Energy, Ethics and Feed-in Tariffs. Available at:
In US, there are a few schemes to promote renewables. One of them is called Purchasing Green Power Products. Many utilities are now offering their customers the ability to support wind power without constructing your own wind turbine. If your power provider offers a "green power" program, for a small surcharge on your monthly utility bill, you can ensure that the utility is purchasing renewable resources . ( On December 13th, the key vote on the Reid Substitute Energy Bill Amendment that would have extended the Production Tax Credit (PTC) for an additional 2-years and created a small wind tax credit thru the Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) fell 1 vote short of reaching the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster[AWEA News releases and Statements (AWEA 3rd quarter 2007 market report). Available at:]. Instead of giving more policy support for renewables, the government is taking away even the little support that exists.
There is quite a lot of awareness generated on the need to amend US energy policies and I’m sure the next president will go the green way, no matter if he/she is a democrat or republican!!

No comments: