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Even though wind energy is a clean and cost-effective source of energy, it does have one slight drawback: no one can control when the wind blows. This occasionally leads to difficulties in matching consumers’ demand for energy with the available supply. For instance, when the wind is strong but demand for electricity is low (i.e., late at night), wind farm operators may have to turn turbines away from the wind to avoid overwhelming the electrical grid. Of course, the opposite scenario can also occur, in which the wind is not strong enough to meet demand for electricity during a peak period.

One potential solution for this problem has been the subject of much attention and research lately, and that solution is the use of batteries. Really, really, big batteries, that is. Batteries could help by allowing wind farms to store energy during periods of low demand and then transfer it to the grid when demand is high. These batteries would also come equipped with computers that could ensure the electricity is released at a fixed rate, making wind power similar to natural gas and other power sources which can start or stop production at a moment’s notice. Such a system would allow utility operators to schedule the supply of wind energy precisely according to need, increasing dependability.

Now, when I think of batteries, I inevitably imagine a sleek-looking pair of AA’s. However, it turns out batteries can come in all sorts of shapes and sizes if you look in the right places. A team at the University of Minnesota recently completed a study in partnership with Xcel Energy to determine whether a battery system could, in fact, be effective at transferring energy from off-peak to on-peak availability. Sure enough, the experiment was a success, but the battery they used (manufactured by NaS) was the size of two 18-wheelers and weighed a whopping 80 tons! And this is just one kind of exotic battery that may eventually be used in conjunction with wind farms; another is a flywheel system in which energy is transferred to a free-spinning rotor on an axis and stored kinetically. Pretty cool, if you ask me.

As you might expect for such bulky batteries (even the flywheels are the size of water heaters, and you need lots of them), the main drawback is that they’re not yet cost-effective. But as the American Wind Energy Association’s (AWEA) Into the Wind blog reminds us, that’s okay, because grid operators can account for the variability of wind by utilizing other sources of flexibility in the grid:

“Every day, grid operators constantly accommodate variability in electricity demand and supply by increasing and decreasing the output of flexible generators – power plants like hydroelectric dams or natural gas plants that can rapidly change their level of generation.”

In fact, AWEA estimates that the US could increase its wind capacity tenfold before battery storage would really be necessary.

In the meantime though, battery storage is a neat trick that would have its uses. For instance, many small towns in isolated areas are not well-served by transmission lines. If the transmission were to fail for some reason, batteries could allow the town to keep an emergency center open until power was restored. It’s safe to say the Energizer Bunny would be proud.

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The wind industry is a whole lot more than meets the eye. Behind those turbine towers serenely dotting the skyline is the bustle of manufacturing, construction, and maintenance work which goes into building and operating them. Throughout the Great Plains’ wind corridor, these jobs are helping revitalize small towns that have been hurt economically by the migration of traditional kinds of manufacturing overseas.  Nowhere is this process more noticeably transformative than in the state of Iowa, where the manufacturing of turbines and nacelles (the box on the turbine which contains the generator), account for 2,300 jobs.

Iowa has a rich history of manufacturing in areas that you might expect for such an agricultural powerhouse—its specialties  included farm equipment and food processing machinery. It also had plants devoted to products such as printing presses and coal trucks. This history meant that even though the state had to endure manufacturing slowdowns and concurrent job losses over the past 30 years, it always possessed human capital with knowledge of how to build things.  Components of wind turbines, such as blades which can weigh up to 15,000 lbs, fit into the same class of heavy machinery as much farm equipment. Thus, Iowa was in a great position to supply its wind industry with parts as homegrown as its corn.

Many wind manufacturing companies have chosen to locate in Iowa, including industry giants such as Germany’s Siemens and Spains’ Acciona.  This makes sense given the state’s abundant wind resources and reputation for being on the progressive edge of wind development. Iowa is known for passing one of the country’s first Renewable Energy Standards back in the day when this type of legislation wasn’t yet the norm. The state also offers tax incentives for wind companies who build plants there. All of this has resulted in small town success stories such as those profiled here and here.

The growth of wind manufacturing in Iowa makes it an interesting model for the wind industry as a whole. For one thing, it proves that wind has grown out of any possible classification as a “niche” industry. It powers job growth not just in manufacturing but also in the technical field (installing turbines) and the development field (planning wind farms). Although each field is highly specialized, Iowa shows that when brought together, these jobs can provide a dynamic boost across the whole economy.

Finally, Iowa’s prowess in all things wind is leading to some unforeseen benefits. First, the state has become a leader in wind research and education. Programs at the state’s colleges which train students to become wind technicians consistently find employers swooping in to hire students before they even graduate, and Iowa State recently established a Wind Energy Manufacturing Laboratory to focus on improving productivity and reducing costs at turbine factories. Also, another sign that Iowa’s proactive stance on renewable energy is paying off came July 20th when Google inked a 20-year contract to purchase 114MW of power from a wind farm in Story County.

All of this shows that wind energy’s benefits are constituted not just in the electricity it produces but also in the activity behind the scenes. Iowa (which produces a higher percentage of its energy from wind than any other state) is a great example of wind having a far-reaching positive impact on a region.

In early 2009, a look back at 2008 saw wind energy posting record numbers of growth in the United States. In terms of new installed capacity, new project announcements, project expansions, and manufacturing capability, 2008 was the banner year for the leading form of alternative energy options. 8,350 megawatts of  new wind energy connected to the grid — a 50% increase on 2007 — and employment by the wind sector grew by 35,000. At the time, with the recession deepening, most analysts expected 2009 to fall well short of the previous year’s figures with equally dismal job losses to match. Surprisingly, things didn’t quite turn out that way.

The New York Time's Growth Chart

The New York Times' Growth Chart

Aided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the wind energy sector grew by 39% in 2009. With an additional 9,992 megawatts, wind generated enough electricity to power over 2.4 million homes and cut back on millions of cubic tons of carbon emissions. Wind was also one of the biggest contributors of new energy last year, closely matching growth in natural gas. The two energy options combined for 80% of all new electricity generation in the country.

Stimulus money from the ARRA came in the form of cash grants that helped dislodge wind projects that had become stuck in development, unable to raise capital in the soured investment climate. Without these new investment options, wind may have seen a dramatic blowback in production. The American Wind Energy Association had predicted up to a 50% slowdown in growth but cited government action as a critical preventative measure in their quarterly release:

“The clear commitment by the President to create clean energy jobs and the swift implementation of ARRA incentives by the Administration in mid-summer reversed the [worsening economic] situation. Recovery Act incentives spurred the growth of construction, operations and maintenance, and management jobs, helping the industry to save and create jobs in those sectors and shine as a bright spot in the economy.”

Despite the impressive figures and strengthening performance through the fourth quarter of 2009, AWEA went on to temper its good news with a cautionary warning. Investment in wind manufacturing has decreased which resulted in net job losses for the manufacturing sector. It may be, as the New York Times observed, that growth in 2009 came as a carryover from 2008’s momentum and that continued growth will lag without additional incentives from legislature in the form of a national Renewable Energy Standard (RES). 29 states have already enacted their own RES policies but a cue from the federal government could open up more investments in domestic manufacturing. Lack of transmission capacity is also seen as a long-term growth inhibitor.

Growth in 2009 lifted output from wind energy over 35,000 megawatts and has brought the U.S. close to generating 2 percent of its electricity from wind turbines. That may sound marginal, but output has increased sevenfold from 2002 levels and is becoming an ever larger presence in the country’s energy portfolio. It could be difficult for wind to top 2009’s figures in 2010, but the same was said after 2008. Here’s hoping 2010 will again surpass expectations.

AWEA’s Into the Wind blog recently linked a South Dakota Public Radio story about the town of Howard, SD. After 90 years of declining population, the town has grown in recent years thanks in part to a turbine blade manufacturing plant. This is a great example of the positive effect that green energy infrastructure can have on a local community.

Howard is banking on green jobs and green energy, and it’s working. More than 230 new jobs have come to Howard this decade. The climate legislation in congress could create even more green jobs in places like Howard. It’s good news for Randy Parry.

[…] Parry calls South Dakota the Saudi Arabia of wind. He says the state is ripe for a boom in wind energy, but he says it all hinges on the creation of new transmission lines needed to get the power to market. Parry hopes congress will help fund this new electric grid in this upcoming climate bill.

National Wind has written extensively in the past about the need for both an upgraded electric transmission grid and a comprehensive bill to combat global climate change.

Listen to the story here:

To read the story in its entirety, visit South Dakota Public Broadcasting’s website.

The entire nation is experiencing hard economic times resulting in widespread job loss. The unemployment rate reached a 25-year high in March 2009, an astounding 8.5 percent. This brings the net total of eliminated jobs to 663,000 and nearly all economists expect the job cuts to continue for much of the year. Since the recession began in December 2007, the net total job loss has reached 5.1 million, 2/3 of which were in the last 5 months. Even more employees have been forced to work part time for economic reasons.

As government and businesses look toward shaping a stronger economic future, there is a strong emphasis on “green-collar jobs” in the emerging green energy sector. President Obama is dedicated to creating 5 million green-collar jobs in the next decade. The economic stimulus package passed in February is estimated to create 3.6 million of these jobs by 2010.

Given the outlook on millions of new jobs in the sector, countless unemployed workers hit hard by the financial crisis are choosing to head back to the classroom to hone their skills and many are opting for an education in the green energy sector.

In the wind industry, the demand for highly skilled workers who can build and service wind turbines is increasing. However, the workforce needs to be prepared and colleges are modernizing curricula and creating wind turbine technology training programs to meet the growing demand.

Although educational opportunities for turbine technician technicians are offered in 22 states, Iowa Lakes Community College, in Estherville, Iowa, has one of the most well-recognized wind turbine technology programs in the country. Iowa Lakes Community College offers a program in Wind Energy & Turbine Technology. This 2-year program is the first of its kind in Iowa to train students on the construction, operation and maintenance of wind turbines. Graduates enter the job market with the necessary qualifications for many entry-level wind turbine technician positions. Exceptions graduates may also possess the skills and educational background to become wind plant operators and supervisors.

To provide the further resources to aid students’ success in the program, the campus expanded by developing a $550,000 and 6,200 square foot addition to provide more space in the Sustainable Energy Education Center/Wind Energy building on the Estherville campus. “The new addition will serve as a model for consumers and the industry, allowing Iowa Lakes to accept 32 additional freshmen students into this ever-popular program,” said Valerie Newhouse, College President.

Cero Coso Community College in California, meanwhile, is one of the few colleges to offer a short-term “Wind Technician Boot Camp.” The 8-week program is offered at the college in the Eastern Sierra region of Southern California. The program prepares students through a wide variety of courses in turbine engineering, safety and prevention, and by providing resume and job interview preparation. Students graduating from this program will receive an Energy Technician Certificate.

For more information on other wind energy training programs across the country, including locations, enrollment opportunities, and course specifics, see http://www.windpoweringamerica.gov/schools_training.asp.

The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) joined over 220 other companies and organizations in signing a letter to Congress endorsing a national renewable electricity standard (RES). A national RES will provide the long-term policy commitment needed to require businesses to invest in clean, renewable energy. Legislation introduced in to the House and Senate would require utilities in every state to generate at least 25% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025.

Implementing such a standard could ease many of the nation’s current problems by putting Americans back to work, building up the economy, lowering the cost of living, and reducing negative environmental impacts.

The proposed RES would add nearly 300,000 jobs to the economy according to a new study released by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). The jobs, created in fields as diverse as management, manufacturing and construction, would add to the 85,000 jobs the wind industry already supports. Additionally, the 25%-by-2025 scenario would prompt roughly $263 billion of capital investment in the economy and provide an estimated $13.5 billion of income to landowners.

The American consumer would in turn see economic savings. A 25% RES would lower annual natural gas prices by about 4.1%, and average electricity prices would be reduced by as much as 7.6%. These reductions would be achieved by diversifying the energy supply, producing more energy from domestic sources, protecting consumers against price spikes, and reducing demand for foreign natural gas.

Besides the economic benefits, an RES is also a strong step in tackling emissions that cause global climate change. A national RES would help reduce dependence on fossil fuels, decreasing environmental degradation from the extraction, transportation, and burning of fossil fuels.

The study conducted by UCS highlights countless benefits of an RES and comes at a crucial time in the national debate over such legislation. The letter, along with the momentum it has gained, urges Congress to adopt a national RES this year. House and Senate committees plan to consider energy legislation, including a national RES, later this spring.

20% wind energy by 2030. According to the Department of Energy and the American Wind Energy Association, this staggering yet inspiring number is quite feasible. Not only would harnessing 20% of our energy from wind by 2030 mean a much cleaner environment, but it would also mean tremendous job growth. The US Department of Energy’s “20% wind energy by 2030” report finds if wind represented a fifth of America’s wind supply, over half a million domestic jobs could be created.

The wind industry creates jobs in manufacturing, construction, transportation, legal, financial, safety, and maintenance.

The manufacturing jobs created are varied and diverse. Every 1000 MW of wind power developed creates a potential for 3000 jobs in manufacturing, 700 jobs in installation and 600 in operations and maintenance according to a study conducted by the Renewable Energy Policy Project (REPP). A wind turbine’s four main components (the tower, rotor, nacelle and controls, gearbox and drive train, and generator and power elextronics) are divided into 20 sub-components. Because each sub-component requires a vast level of technical expertise to manufacture, separate facilities are utilized to complete the job. This creates a variety of manufacturing jobs in the areas of measuring and controlling devices, ball and roller bearings, iron and steel fabrication, power transmission equipment, industrial commercial fans and blowers, printed circuits and electronics assemblies, plastics and rubber products and motors and generators.

Also, wind energy technicians are needed to assist with the construction and upkeep of turbines while wind research specialists are needed to use climatology to assess wind potential in various locations.

Direct wind industry job growth would also increase jobs in related industries. For instance, large-load transportation specialists are needed to transport the turbines from the manufacturing facility to the wind farm, while lawyers are needed to deal with legal fees and regulations associated with the turbines.

The largest number of jobs can be expected to occur in Texas, California, and the Great Lakes region where it is estimated that by 2030 30,000+ jobs a year will be created. Furthermore, with policy initiatives for wind in America becoming more stable and abundant in recent years, more and more companies are choosing to locate domestically instead of overseas. In the past two years, domestic wind manufacturing has doubled and over 50 new or expanded wind energy manufacturing plants have opened.

What’s especially encouraging about America’s wind industry growth is its capability to create more jobs than traditional energy sources.

The Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California in Berkeley reports that the renewable energy sector generates more jobs per megawatt of power installed, per unit of energy produced, and per dollar of investment, than the fossil fuel-based energy sector.

How’s that for an argument to increase wind energy development in a time of economic downturn?

Continuing our look at top turbine manufacturers, here are five more incredible companies that by no means can be overlooked when it comes to wind turbines. While they may not be the top three on our list, they certainly are significant players in turbine manufacturing. Each company brings its own innovation and creative flair to designing the equipment used to help us create a cleaner energy source. Scattered throughout the world are our fabulous five that are helping fill the orders to meet the ever expanding need for wind turbines.

Gamesa comes in at a cool fourth place with over 13,000 MW installed capacity in 20 different countries. Gamesa has its own extensive design and technological development capability for wind turbines, as well as the largest integral production capacity. They set up their first wind unit facility in 1994, and have made tremendous strides in becoming one of the world’s top turbine producers. In 2007, Gamesa installed 484 MW and 242 turbines.

Mitsubishi Power Systems’ headquarters are located in Lake Mary, Florida. They are best known for their innovative alternatives to traditional turbine models. This includes, lightweight blades with full span pitch control and optimum blade profile, as well as advanced noise reduction technology for the blade and gearbox components. It comes as no surprise that 356 1-MW Mitsubishi turbines (356 MW) were installed in 2007.

Suzlon slides into sixth place with 197 MW and 97 turbines installed in 2007. Suzlon has the greatest market share in the US of any Asian wind turbine manufacturer. Suzlon is 13-years-old and has focused efforts on making wind turbines more reliable by consistently delivering availability rates that beat the global standards by 95% on average.

Clipper, lucky number seven, incorporated in 2007 in the state of Delaware. Clipper houses state of the art technology including their patented distributed generation powertrain, generators and power electronics. The Liberty turbine has four patented megaflux permanent magnet generators, patented quantum drive distributed powertrain, and patented variable speed technology.

Nordex is great at number eight, and is proud to say that they manufacture hot- and cold-climate models that are specifically designed to withstand extreme desert and permafrost conditions. They began in 1985 and by 1987 they had produced the world’s largest series wind turbine of 250 kW. Thirteen years later they claimed fame again by developing the first wind turbine with the capacity of 2.5 megawatts in 2000. As of July 2007, Nordex has the total worldwide installed capacity of 423,565 MW.

Since the 1980s wind turbine technology has taken on a whole new meaning. This brings out the best of the best for innovative wind turbine design from companies all around the world. Leading the pack are three major companies that not only provide state of the art design and the best equipment available, but have the most megawatts of energy installed in worldwide.

GE Energy
is number one when it comes to installed capacity. In 2007 they installed 2,342 MW and 1,561 turbines. GE is also known for building the first steam turbine in 1901. Today they have over 10,000 wind turbines representing over a million megawatts of installed capacity in 120 countries.

Vestas
ranks number two behind GE Energy, with 953 MW and 537 turbines installed in 2007. Vestas began production in 1979 and has grown into one of the most prominent wind turbine manufacturers in the world. As much as 12,000 barrels of oil would be needed to match the annual energy production of a Vestas 3.0 MW wind turbine. If there is any good indicator of the growth of the wind energy industry, Vestas has it: Vestas installs a turbine every four hours globally! It’s no secret that this company is moving and shaking its way to the top of the wind world!

Siemens
is nipping at the heels of our top two with an impressive 863 MW and 375 turbines installed in 2007. Siemens maintains its individuality by being known as the preferred solution for large and demanding on- and off-shore projects. Siemens began developing competitive designs for turbines in 1980. With eight worldwide locations including a manufacturing facility in Fort Madison, IA, Siemens is increasingly making its name known in the wind world.

There you have it: GE, Vestas, and Siemens world renowned companies and three of the top wind turbine manufacturers.

To meet the ever-growing demand for wind turbines, manufacturers around the world are ramping up production and innovating more efficient turbine designs and construction processes. The turbines made by the leading developers are used to create renewable energy from natural wind resources and are number of turbines installed is expanding at a staggering rate. Topping the list is GE Energy with its large yearly turbine output and the most worldwide turbine locations. Can’t wait any longer for the rest of the top 8 results? Well here they are!

  1. GE Energy
  2. Vestas
  3. Siemens
  4. Gamesa
  5. Mitsubishi Power Systems
  6. Suzlon
  7. Clipper
  8. Nordex

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