Although $40-a-barrel oil has taken some of the wind out of the sails of the green energy movement, in the longer term renewables are certain to grow. The International Energy Agency has just released a handy guide to wind power, Renewable Energy Essentials: Wind.
The brochure notes that production costs onshore range from $75/MWh to $97/MWh at high to medium quality wind sites. Onshore wind is competitive at sites with good resource and grid access. Offshore wind can produce up to 50% more electricity than onshore, but hardware and installation are more expensive.
In a survey of the history of wind power and its prospects, The Economist says wind power is poised to make a significant contribution to curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
In America alone, about 35% of new electricity-generating capacity in 2007 came from wind power. The IEA projects that by 2030 wind power will produce 14% of the electricity in the European Union, accounting for 60% of its growth in electricity generation (though additional policy measures could increase this share even further).
From a zero-fuel-cost, zero-carbon perspective, notes Victor Abate, vice-president of renewables at GE Energy, wind power is currently the most cost-effective and scalable technology available to mankind.
Wind power has made great progress, but the industry faces new growing pains. One of these is the need to win greater public acceptance for the technology. As well as complaining that wind turbines spoil the view or make too much noise, opponents of wind turbines also worry about the danger they pose to birds. (Proponents respond that many more birds are killed annually by cats, vehicles and buildings.)
But perhaps the greatest obstacle to the wider adoption of wind power is the need to overhaul the power grid to accommodate it. Transmitting wind power from rural areas with strong winds to populated areas with high demand will require expensive new transmission lines.