Wind energy has been harnessed for thousands of years. Early users of wind energy propelled their boats, grinded grain, pumped water and managed bodies of water creatively using wind power. In 1850, Daniel Halladay and John Burnham patented the first commercial windmill and established the first wind engine company in the U.S. How has wind energy harvesting changed since 1850? Today, the main use for wind energy is to generate electricity. In 1941, the largest wind turbine was capable of generating 1.25 megawatts of electricity. Today’s wind turbines can generate 250 watts to 7 MW.
Installed wind energy capacity for the U.S. totaled to over 100,000 MW in 2019 (AWEA, 2019). Between January 2001, and November 2019, U.S. wind energy generated increased from 389,000 megawatt hours to 25.6 million megawatt hours. In the last 15 years, the wind energy and solar energy sector have become the fastest growing clean energy sectors in the United States. Figure 1 reflects the growth trends in various renewable energy sectors between January 2001 and November 2019.
Figure 1 United States Renewable Energy Net Generation
Also attributed to the rapid expansion of the wind energy sector in 2016, the addition of 101,738 workers for technical and related jobs. Technology advancements within the renewable energy sector have led to the industry containing the fastest growing occupations: solar photovoltaic installers and wind turbine service technicians. Between 2018-2028, projected employment growth for wind service technicians is to increase by 57 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Figure 2 shows the growth rate of various occupations in the U.S. between 2018- 2028, projected by the BLS.
Figure 2 Growth Rate by Occupation (2018-2028)
For the state of Iowa, wind energy supplied 34% of electricity in 2018. Since 2011, coal-fired energy generation in Iowa dropped from 40 million megawatt hours to less than 29 million megawatt hours. More than half of the United States’ wind power generation came from only four states including Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa and Kansas, respectively (See Figure 3). Long term projections from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecast renewable energy from wind and solar to generate more electricity than coal and nuclear by as early as 2021. These projections also show wind and solar powered electricity to surpass natural gas in 2045.
Figure 3 Wind Electricity Generation in the U.S.
The largest contributors of net generation of energy from Iowa’s wind utility scale facilities are the electric utilities and independent power producers. According to the 2018 Wind Technologies Market Report, 80% of the new wind capacity installed in the U.S. was owned by independent power producers in 2018. Iowa’s commercial sector followed, with roughly 15 million megawatt hours generated in 2018 for Iowa.
Figure 4 Utility Scale Facility Net Generation from Wind in Iowa
Wind energy has become an important source of clean and sustainable energy in the U.S and Iowa. Efforts to increase production of renewable energy have been encouraged through the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Iowa was the first state to develop an RPS, and Iowa’s electric utility companies such as MidAmerican Energy and Alliant Energy have since invested billions of dollars into renewable energy sources across the state. Also, conducive to increasing wind energy expansion, has been the 50% decrease in price between 2008 and 2018 of wind turbines, according to the 2018 Wind Technologies market report. Future studies will continue to study wind energy production costs, coupled with wind energy output and other renewable energy costs/outputs.