As Wind Power in the US Gains Traction, the Coronavirus is Complicating Matters
According to CNBC article, the US wind industry installed over 1,800 megawatts in the first quarter of the year, but the coronavirus remains a risk to that progress. According to a report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), 11 new projects with a total capacity of 1,821 megawatts (MW) commenced operations in the first three months of this year.
This is big—in fact, the AWEA recently noted that this represented more than double the installations compared with the first quarter in 2019.
Big Wind Plans Come Crashing
The wind industry was literally blooming in the first part of this year, as was its construction activity, before the coronavirus hit and cast a shadow over the whole industry.
The AWEA acknowledged that the pandemic was bad news for the industry, saying it “posed significant challenges to the U.S. wind industry.” In fact, based on its own analysis from March, the association said about 25 gigawatts of planned projects—which represent $35 billion in investments—were at risk from the pandemic.
In particular, the pandemic’s effect on the industry will hurt rural America, where 99 percent of wind energy projects are situated.
To put this threat into a broader perspective, the entire “clean energy” industry in the U.S. is being impacted by the coronavirus. Over 106,000 people working in the sector lost their jobs in March alone, according to research earlier this month. The entire industry’s work force is projected to fall 15 percent in the coming months.
That 15 percent represents about 500,000 people. And even though official projections poised solar installers and wind turbine technicians to be the two fastest growing occupations over the next decade, that project might not be true anymore.
What constitutes the “clean energy” industry? An analysis of Department of Labor data, released by Environmental Entrepreneurs, the American Council on Renewable Energy, E4TheFuture and BW Research Partnership, explains. The term “clean energy” encompasses areas including: renewables such as solar and wind; energy storage; energy efficiency and “clean fuels.”
This pandemic has not just hurt the oil and gas industry. Clean energy projects across the country have been put on hold, and money is short to continue the projects let alone pay workers.
A Washington Post article notes that while both the oil and gas and clean energy industries are hurting, the federal government has given no attention to safeguarding the clean energy sector.
“We don’t want to lose our great oil companies,” President Trump said during an April 1 news briefing. He so far has not made a similar promise to help wind and solar farms, and none of the four economic rescue and stimulus packages that Congress has passes respond to the coronavirus crisis set aside any money for renewable energy specifically.
The International Energy Agency said that while global energy demand fell 3.8 percent in the first quarter of the year, renewables were the only source to post an increase in demand, increasing nearly 1.5 percent thanks to new renewable power plants, low operating costs and priority on some electricity grids.
Promises in Ireland
Luckily, there is some uplifting wind power news to share. Ireland is not far off from making wind energy its number one source of power. In the first quarter of 2020, wind energy was already the country’s top source of energy.
In total, wind energy generated 3,390 gigawatt hours (GWh) in the first three months of the year, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.
Wind’s rival in electricity production, natural gas, was responsible for 3,234 GWh in the same period.
“Today’s figures show that it is only a matter of time before wind energy is Ireland’s number one source of electricity,” said CEO of the Irish Wind Energy Association (IWEA), David Connolly.
“Last year was a record-breaking year for the industry as we provided a third of the country’s electricity demand,” Connolly added. “The first three months of 2020 show that we are well on track to beat that record.”