Over the last decade, wind energy has catapulted from a fringe energy option to an economic, mainstream, $50 billion a year industry that employs 300,000 people globally. Over the last decade, technology advancements have driven the cost of wind down 60%, while the price of oil has surged over 350%. In fact, 40% of new power installations in America over the past five years have been wind energy. The success of wind power has become so widespread in the US that even companies like Walmart, Anheuser Busch and Nestle are becoming power producers using the technology.
Last week, the United States celebrated the milestone of 50 GW of installed wind power, demonstrating wind’s value as a mainstream, domestic source of energy for America. Fifty gigawatts is big: it’s enough capacity to power 12.8 million American homes, or meet the electricity demands of Nevada, Colorado, Wisconsin, Virginia, Alabama and Connecticut through wind power alone.
What’s driving this growth and economic advancements? In a word, technology. When you visualize a wind turbine, imagine a Boeing 747 spinning 80 meters in the air. The rotor span is greater than a football field.
A wind turbine’s size is impressive, but wind turbines are built on a foundation of progressive technology. Our technology advancements in reliability and efficiency over the last 10 years have driven our 1.5 MW turbine to produce 50% more power today than it did 10 years ago.
This year, we at GE are celebrating our tenth anniversary in wind. As I reflect over the last decade, it’s clear a true transformation of power generation has taken place, led by the adoption of clean, domestic energy.
Our founder Thomas Edison had confidence in renewable energy back in 1931, the year of his death. In a conversation with Henry Ford and Harvey Firestone, Edison emphasized the promise he saw in renewable energy: “We are like tenant farmers chopping down the fence around our house for fuel when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy – sun, wind and tide.”
With 50 gigawatts of wind installed in the US, this is an industry that is economically competitive, efficient and reliable, and one that provides good manufacturing jobs. To say it simply … wind energy works, and this is just the beginning.
Victor Abate is president and CEO of GE’s renewable energy business and is based in Schenectady, N.Y.