Wind power could provide more than a third of the country’s electricity by 2050 while yielding a net savings in energy costs paid by consumers, the Energy Department reported in a major study released Thursday.
Continued growth of wind energy—which has tripled since 2000 and now supplies nearly 5 percent of the country’s electric power—also could dramatically reduce air pollution and go a long way toward meeting the country’s goals on slowing climate change, the report said.
But the study also warned that consistent government policies were critical to avoiding “boom and bust” cycles for investment in wind energy. Congress must keep wind-friendly tax policies in place to minimize market uncertainty about future returns on investments in wind turbines, Energy Department officials said.
“With continued commitment, wind can be the cheapest, cleanest option in all 50 states by 2050,” Lynn Orr, the department’s undersecretary for technology and energy, said in unveiling “Wind Vision: A New Era for Wind Power in the United States
The report, an update on a similar study conducted in 2008, attempts to project the potential growth of the wind-power industry under a range of scenarios over the next 35 years, as well as the possible impacts on consumers and on the environment.
Already, it noted, the industry is experiencing dramatic growth in many parts of the country, aided by steadily falling costs that have made wind power an attractive option, even at a time of cheap natural gas prices. “In some parts of the U.S., wind is already the cheapest option for consumers,” Orr said.
Using what the report’s authors described as realistic, middle-of-the-road assumptions for future market conditions, the study projected that 20 percent of the country’s electricity would be generated from wind by 2030, and 35 percent by 2050. It predicted that significant wind-power facilities would soon be in place in every U.S. state as well as in off-shore wind farms along the coast.
The study does not examine the potential role of solar energy, which also has experienced dramatic gains in the past five years. A study earlier this month by the U.S. Energy Information Administration found that most of the growth in U.S. electricity generation currently is coming from solar and wind.
Trade groups representing traditional fuels also have predicted significant, though somewhat more modest, growth in renewables over the coming decades. A January report by the American Petroleum Institute projected that wind and other renewables would account for 12 percent of American energy consumption by 2040. That figure also includes energy used in transportation.
The Energy Department report said the shift to wind could result in a net price increase of about 1 percent for consumers by 2030, but would produce a overall savings of 2 percent by 2030. That’s in addition to savings in environmental costs, including lower levels of asthma-causing smog and soot and reduced emissions of heat-trapping carbon dioxide, it said.
Wind’s environmental benefits “can address key societal challenges such as climate change, air quality and public health, and water scarcity,” while also providing U.S. jobs, U.S. manufacturing, and lease and tax revenues,” the report said. It cited the potential for the creation of 600,000 U.S. jobs from wind energy alone, including manufacturing positions in factories constructing wind turbines.
The recent gains in renewables were trumpeted by Secretary State John F. Kerry on Thursday in a speech that called for increased investment in solar and wind for both environmental and economic reasons. Kerry will help lead the Obama administration’s efforts to negotiate an international agreement on reducing carbon emissions later this year in Paris.
Kerry said clean energy offered not only a way to avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but also “one of the greatest economic opportunities of all time” as countries build the infrastructure for a new energy grid that does not rely on foreign imports.
“Want to put people to work? This is the way you put people to work,” Kerry said in the speech to the Atlantic Council. “The global energy market of the future is poised to be the largest market the world has ever known.”
“This is not a choice between bad and worse,” Kerry said. “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.”