The electricity you use to power your home is most likely generated by burning coal, with some nuclear and natural gas-fueled current in the mix for good measure. However, that could all be changing, and faster than anyone expected. While renewable fuel sources like solar and wind power make up only a small part of the nation's electrical grid today, wind could actually be the leading source of electricity in little more than three decades.
Viable and Competitive
Wind could surpass other sources and provide as much as a third of the United States’ electricity by 2050, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Wind and Water Power Technologies office. Wind currently weighs in at only 4.5 percent of the supply, but if projections hold, that will increase to 10 percent by 2020 and 20 percent by 2030.
“The wind industry can be characterized by the substantial growth of domestic manufacturing and the level of wind deployment seen in recent years,” José Zayas, director of the DOE Wind and Water Power Technologies office, said to EcoWatch. “Wind power systems are now seen as a viable and competitive source of electricity across the nation. Wind power’s emerging role is an important option in a portfolio of new energy solutions for future generations.”
Benefits to Public Health, Environment
Should the prediction of wind's dominance come to pass, it would have numerous benefits for the environment and for consumers. Even at current levels, wind has reduced water consumption by 36.5 billion gallons and carbon emissions by 115,000,000 metric tons compared to traditional power sources, according to the government.
That means a lot less carbon getting released into the atmosphere, helping to slow our contribution to climate change. Plus, once the infrastructure is built, wind is free to harvest, and doesn't have the same environmental tradeoffs as coal and natural gas. The benefits “can address key societal challenges such as climate change, air quality and public health, and water scarcity,” the report said.
The rosy projection is just that. There are numerous uncertainties that could affect how well wind power actually does in the future, including government policies to incentivize wind or decentivize coal usage, the supply and price of natural gas, and the demand for electricity overall in the United States.
The technology around wind generation will have to hold its own as well. Growth in market share depends on continued advances in efficiency, more transmission capacity and better weather forecasting so we can best take advantage of favorable gusts.
Should the growth of wind continue as predicted, there could be hope for a cleaner, healthier future. And what's good for the United States can be good for the rest of the world as well.
“The global energy market of the future is poised to be the largest market the world has ever known,” Secretary of State John Kerry said in a speech about wind power. “Pursuing cleaner, more efficient energy is actually the only way that nations around the world can build the kind of economies that are going to thrive for decades to come.