In its quest for widespread adoption, wind power has long suffered from the challenge of cost. Despite how intelligent it might seem to harness the wind for electricity, the main reason more turbines don’t grace the landscape is because they simply are too expensive to build and install.
All that may soon change. According to recent reports, wind power has entered a new phase, one that has made it competitive with traditional (and traditionally less costly) sources of power, such as coal and natural gas.
America.gov, the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) website, states wind energy is now on an even playing field with coal. It cites a study by the market research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance, which pegs the cost of wind power at $68 per megawatt-hour, only $1 more than the $67 per megawatt-hour for coal.
The parity in pricing is due to a number of factors, including growing sales, more efficient turbines and overcapacity in the production of hardware, all of which have helped drive down costs.
This is good news for wind power and its proponents, but the industry still has a long way to go. Despite its popularity and tremendous growth, wind accounted for less than 2 percent of total electricity generated in the United States in 2009, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This contrasts sharply with the target President Obama set for the nation in his 2011 State of the Union address; he called for 80 percent of the country’s power to come from clean power by the year 2035.
Proponents are undaunted. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) concedes that 2010 was a slow year, with only 5,115 MW of capacity installed, barely half the amount of 2009. However, it notes that the industry is off to a great start in 2011 with construction underway as of late January on more capacity—5,600 MW—than the total for all of last year.
AWEA is also optimistic about prices. In the same January statement, it asserted that wind is “now cost--competitive with natural gas.” At $56 per kilowatt-hour, the latter is about $10 cheaper than wind, according to the Bloomberg Study.
Apparently, that $10 differential is minor. Denise Bode, CEO of AWEA, said, “wind power is a great deal right now in many areas of the country.”