While wind energy as a reliable and standard resource may seem far off, the technology is being adopted at record speed. In fact, wind energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sources in the world, according to the U.S. Department of Energy

That’s especially true for 2020, a banner year for the wind industry, according to a report by American Clean Power (ACP).


In the fourth quarter of 2020 alone, the U.S. wind industry installed 10,593 megawatts of new wind power capacity—the highest quarter on record. In fact, that’s more wind power capacity installed than in any given year except 2012.

Texas led with 2,197 megawatts installed, followed by Wyoming with 895 megawatts, Oklahoma with 866 megawatts, Iowa with 861 megawatts, and Missouri with 786 megawatts.

Who is investing in all of this wind? Developers commissioned 16,913 megawatts, representing an 85% increase over 2019. Project owners commissioned 54 new projects across 20 states in the fourth quarter.

This rapidly accelerating trend is being driven by a combination of increased policy initiatives, more scalable technologies, increased demand from corporate and residential customers alike, and more positive customer perception overall. The Biden Administration’s climate plan, for example, includes the ambitious goal of becoming carbon-neutral by 2035. To achieve that, renewables like wind energy will need to become increasingly less fringe as they move to permanently replace fossil fuel power. 

What is wind energy?

Wind is a form of solar energy caused by the sun’s uneven heating of the atmosphere, irregularities in the earth’s surface, and rotation of the planet. The geography of a specific region—such as the presence of mountains, bodies of water, or vegetation—all influence wind flow patterns.

Wind is not distributed equally. In the U.S., the windiest states are Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, and Iowa in the Plains. The least windy states are in the Southeast and include Mississippi, Florida, Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama. 

Wind turbines harness this resource to generate mechanical power or electricity. When wind causes the rotor to spin, a generator connected to it creates electricity. There are two basic types of wind turbines: horizontal axis turbines and vertical axis turbines. Horizontal axis turbines require that the blades be facing towards the wind, which requires an additional yaw control mechanism. Vertical axis turbines do not need to be pointed at the wind, and so are more appropriate in geographies that have highly variable wind generation or turbulent winds.

Wind energy is generally considered “onshore” or “offshore.” Onshore wind farms tend to be easier to assemble and are thus less expensive. However, onshore wind speeds and directions tend to be less predictable, while offshore wind speeds tend to be greater, more reliable, and more efficient. Offshore wind installations, however, are significantly more expensive to build than onshore installations. 

In 2019, there was a 26% increase in cumulative installed capacity of offshore wind energy as compared to 2018, with Europe accounting for more than 70% of the global cumulative offshore capacity by the end of 2019, according to Mordor Intelligence. 

There are currently 122,468 megawatts of operating wind power capacity in the United States, including over 60,000 wind turbines operating across 41 states and two U.S. territories. And 20 states have over 1,000 megawatts of installed capacity, according to the ACP report.

Why invest in wind energy?

Wind energy is cost-effective, creates jobs, encourages U.S. industry growth and competitiveness, and offers a domestic, clean, and sustainable fuel source. Over the next five years, the U.S. has slated 180 onshore and 17 offshore wind projects, totaling $84 billion.

The U.S. Department of Energy has an entire office dedicated to growing the US wind energy market, called the Wind Energy Technologies Office. It focuses on supporting early-stage research on technologies that enhance energy affordability, reliability, and resilience. 

Moreover, wind and solar energies are experiencing major breakthroughs. An expansion of the battery industry is crucial for wind power in order “to store power and keep the grid humming,” according to a report by McKnights. 

In simple terms, “big battery” technology is essentially large-scale storage for renewable energy. Their purpose is to store power harvested by renewable sources like wind and solar, which can’t be relied upon consistently, in order to sustain the electricity they provide even while the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.

These storage systems can “hold enough renewable energy to power hundreds of thousands of homes,” according to the article published by YaleEnvironment360.

These “big battery” solutions could null the need for fossil fuel-powered plants that are used when renewable energy isn’t able to provide enough power. 

Renewable energy—particularly wind and solar—have become less expensive, more efficient, and more adoptable. 

The playing field isn’t so diverse, with top 10 owners of 2020 representing 62% of the wind power capacity brought online.

As the U.S. becomes increasingly renewable driven, wind energy will no doubt play a key role.

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