In 2011, roughly one-third of the new generating capacity installed within the US was in the form of wind turbines, according to a new report prepared by the Department of Energy. That represents nearly seven Gigawatts of new wind installations. Although that leaves the nation a distant second to China (which installed a hefty 17.6GW), it's about double the capacity installed in the next closest country (India) and leaves the US firmly in second place in total wind capacity, with 47GW.
It's important to note that this capacity doesn't reflect the typical output of these wind farms, since the wind doesn't always actually blow. Nevertheless, the steady growth of wind capacity has now pushed the amount that is actually generated by wind to over three percent of the annual national consumption of electricity. The top four countries in this regard—Denmark, Portugal, Spain, and Ireland—all produce over 18 percent of their needs through wind. The US ranks thirteenth.
That said, several states within the US would be competitive with the international results. Wind accounts for over 22 percent of the electricity generated in South Dakota, and just under 19 percent of electricity generated in Iowa (four other states are also above 10 percent). These are important figures, because the US grid isn't especially well structured to handle over 20 percent of its power coming from intermittent sources like wind. The experience gained by the nations and states could prove invaluable as wind power continues to grow.
And there are plenty of indications that other states will be pushing into higher percentages. The new capacity was installed fairly broadly, with 19 states seeing over 100MW of new construction, led by California, with over 900MW.
That said, the growth of installations may be in for a bumpy ride in the near future. Key federal incentives are due to expire in 2014, which may lead to a construction boom next year, followed by a bust if they are not extended.
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