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Study Sheds Light On Growing US Wind Power Market

July 17, 2009

For the fourth consecutive year, the U.S. was home to the fastest-growing wind power market in the world in 2008, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Energy and prepared by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab).  Specifically, U.S. wind power capacity additions increased by 60 percent in 2008, representing a $16 billion investment in new wind projects.  “At this pace, wind is on a path to becoming a significant contributor to the U.S. power mix,” notes report author Ryan Wiser, of Berkeley Lab.  Wind projects accounted for 42% of all new electric generating capacity added in the U.S. in 2008, and wind now delivers nearly 2% of the nation’s electricity supply.

The 2008 edition of the “Wind Technologies Market Report” provides a comprehensive overview of developments in the rapidly evolving U.S. wind power market.  The need for such a report has become apparent in the past few years, as the wind power industry has entered an era of unprecedented growth, both globally and in the United States.  At the same time, the last year has been one of upheaval, with the global financial crisis impacting near-term growth prospects for the wind industry, and with federal policy changes enacted to push the industry towards continued aggressive expansion.  “With the market evolving at such a rapid pace, keeping up with trends in the marketplace has become increasingly difficult,” notes report co-author Mark Bolinger.  “Yet, the need for timely, objective information on the industry and its progress has never been greater”¦this report seeks to fill that need.”

Drawing from a variety of sources, this report analyzes trends in wind power capacity growth, turbine size, turbine prices, installed project costs, project performance, wind power prices, and how wind prices compare to the price of conventional generation.  It also describes developer consolidation trends, current ownership and financing structures, and trends among major wind power purchasers.  Finally, the report examines other factors impacting the domestic wind power market, including grid integration, transmission issues, and policy drivers.  The report concludes with a preview of possible near- to medium-term market developments.

Some of the key findings from the just-released 2008 edition include:

* The U.S. is the fastest-growing wind market worldwide. The U.S. has led the world in new wind capacity for four straight years, and overtook Germany to take the lead in cumulative wind capacity installations.

* Growth is distributed across much of the U.S. Texas leads the nation with 7,118 MW of new wind capacity, but 13 states had more than 500 MW of wind capacity as of the end of 2008, with seven topping 1,000 MW, and three topping 2,000 MW. Over 10% of the electricity generation in Iowa and Minnesota now comes from wind power.

* Market growth is spurring manufacturing investments in the U.S. Several major foreign wind turbine manufacturers either opened or announced new U.S. wind turbine manufacturing plants in 2008. Likewise, new and existing U.S.-based manufacturers either initiated or scaled-up production. The number of utility-scale wind turbine manufacturers assembling turbines in the U.S. increased from just one in 2004 (GE) to five in 2008 (GE, Gamesa, Clipper, Acciona, CTC/DeWind).

* Wind turbine prices and installed project costs continued to increase into 2008. Near the end of 2008 and into 2009, however, turbine prices have weakened in response to reduced demand for wind due to the financial crisis.

* Wind project performance has improved over time, but has leveled off in recent years. The longer-term improvement in project performance has been driven in part by taller towers and larger rotors, enhanced project siting, and technological advancements.

* Wind remained economically competitive in 2008. Despite rising project costs, in recent years wind has consistently been priced at or below the price of conventional electricity, as reflected in wholesale power prices. With wholesale prices plummeting in recent months, however, the economic position of wind in the near-term has become more challenging.

* Expectations are for a slower year in 2009, in large part due to the global recession. Projections among industry prognosticators range from 4,400 MW to 6,800 MW of wind likely to be installed in the U.S. in 2009. After a slower 2009, most predictions show market resurgence in 2010 and continuing for the immediate future.

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