Steve Sawyer: Wind power is really the main supply side technology that can make a difference in the short term between now and 2020, to reduce emissions in the power sector.
Steve Sawyer is secretary general of the Global Wind Energy Council, a trade association that represents the wind industry at the international level. Use of wind power is on the rise, Sawyer said, as governments all over the world consider how to generate more electricity and emit fewer of the greenhouse gases thought to be warming the planet. Sawyer said wind power production grew by 40 percent in 2009, across the globe.
Steve Sawyer: The biggest trend, I suppose, in the last few years is the dramatic growth in the markets in China and the United States. China has become the fastest growing market in the world by far. It would be the single largest market this year. And the United States just last year took over first place.
For the U.S., Sawyer said, upgrades to the electric grid could help raise wind power’s share from about 2% of total electricity today to 20% or more, by the year 2030.
Steve Sawyer: You could supply the whole country with electricity, no problem, in terms of the raw resource. But we have to actually capture that and get it to the markets. That’s the challenge.
Steve Sawyer elaborated, explaining that the U.S. needs proper wind infrastructure if it really wants to push forward with a wind energy agenda.
Steve Sawyer: I think the biggest constraint on the development of wind power in North America is getting the transmission infrastructure in place, rather than the ability of technology to deliver competitive electricity, because that’s been clearly demonstrated. And certainly, the upper Midwest and Rocky Mountain states have some of the best wind resources in the world. That whole great central area – starting down in west Texas running for 200-300 miles east of the Rockies right up to the Canadian border – is a gold mine in terms of wind.
Sawyer spoke more about wind energy trends in the U.S.
Steve Sawyer: One of my jobs is to make projections for how we expect the industry to go forward in the next one to five years. The most difficult market to predict is the United States, simply because of the nature of the support scheme for wind energy in the United States, which is authorized, and re-authorized by Congress on a year, or maximum of three-year basis. On two occasions in the last ten years that support has been allowed to lapse, and the market collapses for a year. Hopefully the market is now of a size and there are enough large companies involved, and a hundred thousand people employed in the sector, such that it will have its own constituency in Congress, which won’t let that happen again.
China’s wind energy sector, said Sawyer, has grown rapidly in just a few short years.
Steve Sawyer:The single biggest factor is the clear expression of government will and the government’s ability to decide on a policy and implement it without a lot of ‘messy’ democracy in between the decisions of the central planners and what gets implemented in the field. Obviously there are advantages and disadvantages in both forms of government and organization of the economy. I wouldn’t want to advocate one over the other, but the point is that Chinese planners decided, about four or five years ago, that they wanted to make the development of wind power part of their strategic priorities for providing energy security and diversifying their energy supply. And it’s happened very, very quickly.
Jorge Salazar has conducted thousands of in-depth interviews with scientists in the process of creating science content for EarthSky. He also helps host the 90-second EarthSky podcasts. Jorge has a bachelor's degree in physics from the University of Texas at Austin. He knows a lot about a lot of different things. For EarthSky, he has explored subjects as diverse as nanotechnology, ecosystem-based management, climate change, global health, international environmental treaties, astrophysics and cosmology, and environmental security. His penetrating research style, poetic writing, and ability to track down and speak with Nobel prize-winning laureates, all make him a huge asset to EarthSky.