The Economics of Wind Energy

Wind energy generation is already widespread in parts of Europe, and its use is growing in the rest of the world. The United States and China are now the leaders in wind energy development, adding capacity faster than any other countries. According to the World Wind Energy Association, global wind power growth exceeded 23% in 2010. World-wide generation capacity of wind power by mid 2011 reached a capacity of 215,000 MW.

Globally, wind power generation accounts for about 2% of all electricity consumption, but that is equivalent to the total electricity needs of Italy, the seventh largest economy in the world.

The Canadian Wind Energy Association reports that wind power generation is growing in Canada at the rate of more than 30% over the last few years. Capacity has grown to over 4,600 MW, enough to power more than 1.4 million homes. There are now installations in every province and territory. While wind energy currently represents only 1.5% of electricity production, it has the potential of growing to produce up to 20% of Canada’s electricity.

The World Wind Energy Association ranks the United States second in installed wind energy capacity at more than 42,000 MW. The American Wind Energy Association reports that in the U.S., the wind industry has added over 35% of all new generating capacity over the last four years, second only to natural gas and more than nuclear and coal combined. U.S. wind power capacity represents more than 20% of the world’s installed wind power. The wind energy industry in the United States employs about 85,000 people.

Because wind is variable from day to day, other forms of electricity production must be included to ensure a constant supply of electricity at all times. While wind production may be difficult to predict over short time periods (i.e., days), wind production is very stable and predictable over longer periods of time (i.e., a year).

As fuel prices rise and the cost of generating conventional electricity rises with it, wind power generation is becoming a competitive alternative to conventional forms of electricity generation. Wind energy will be even more attractive as older facilities using other energy sources come to the end of their useful lives over the next 10 to 20 years.

Interesting facts

The energy it takes to build and install a wind turbine can be generated by that wind turbine in about eight months.

A 1.8MW wind turbine tower weighs 132,000 kg and contains enough steel to manufacture 206 average North American automobiles. Much of that steel is produced in Canada and the United States.

Leasing land for wind farms can be a stable source of income for farmers, while retaining 99% use of the land.

More: Wind energy and the environment

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