Hurricane Irma, feared for her destructive personality, in an ugly category-5 mood two weeks ago snarled at 185 miles an hour, enough to topple trees, flatten houses and shove cars around on pavement. While fierce wind wields phenomenal power, wind energy makes up only about a quarter of one percent of a hurricane’s energy; the bulk is thermal energy released as rain. By the time Irma hurtled through Florida, she caused loss of electricity to some 60 percent of the state’s 20 million people.
Wind, with its dramatic role in storms, harnessed properly could generate more power than it takes away. The North Bay has significant investment in wind energy. McEvoy Ranch, which grows grapes and olives south of Petaluma, overcame neighbor resistance in 2009 to install a wind turbine that generates nearly a third of the electricity it needs. The lone turbine stands 147 feet tall on a hillside. It was the first windmill to power an agricultural facility in California, and the biggest windmill in Marin County.
Solano County turned its gusty microclimate to business advantage with several wind farms around Birds Landing, a hamlet about 17 miles from Fairfield. Shiloh Wind Power Plant, operated by Portland, Oregon-based Avangrid Renewables, completed its fourth phase in 2012 and cranks out more than 150 megawatts with 100 GE turbines sprawled over 6,800 acres of grazing land leased from ranches. Some of its turbines tower 260 feet with rotors spanning 253 feet. PG&E buys much of the power, along with the city of Palo Alto and Modesto Irrigation District.
Avangrid Renewables, which also markets power from High Winds Energy Center near Birds Landing, is a subsidiary of publicly traded Avangrid, a sustainable-energy company based in Connecticut with more than $30 billion in assets, revenue of $6 billion, 6,800 employees and operations in 26 states. The company in February 2017 reported that it expects some 9 percent compound annual growth in earnings per share by 2020.
Avangrid’s wind-farm capacity is nearly 5.8 billion watts from 54 wind farms in 19 states. A billion watts (1 gigawatt) is equivalent to about 4.6 million photovoltaic panels or 500 utility-scale wind turbines, and is enough to run more than 12,000 Nissan Leafs, which have 80-kilowatt motors.
“Renewables strives to lead the transformation of the U.S. energy industry to a competitive, clean energy future,” the company said in its 2016 annual report. Last year the company produced more than 14 million megawatt hours (14 terawatt hours) of energy from wind.
In the United States, wind generates more than 4 percent of total electricity. Iowa and South Dakota produce more than a quarter of their electricity from wind. The U.S. Department of Energy projected that the country could generate 20 percent of its electricity from wind with existing transmission infrastructure, and already has more than 81 gigawatts of installed capacity from wind. Wind energy is the fastest-growing source of energy in the world, according to the Wind Energy Foundation in Washington, D.C.
$16 billion new wind investment
In 2016, $13 billion was invested in U.S. wind turbines to add some 8,200 megawatts of new capacity. The country’s first offshore site was built last year near Rhode Island to generate 30 megawatts.
As a clean source of electricity, wind dovetails well with solar power, which works in clear weather. Wind energy thrives in stormy times when clouds block sunlight from reaching solar panels.
A watt is the customary unit to measure power, equivalent to one joule per second with a circuit of one volt and current of one ampere.
25 kilowatts (thousand watts): electricity to power small to mid-sized home, business
500 megawatts (million watts): typical power output of fossil-fuel power plant
2 gigawatts (billion watts): peak power generation of Hoover Dam
22 gigawatts: total solar power produced by all solar panels in Germany on a cloudless day in 2014
487 gigawatts: total wind turbine capacity end of 2016, about a third in China, followed by U.S., Germany, India, Spain. China installed nearly half of all new capacity since 2014 — huge growth.
200 terawatts (trillion watts): heat (not wind) energy released by large hurricane, wind is less than 1 percent or .5 terawatts
174 petawatts (quadrillion watts): total energy received by earth from sun
385 yottawatts (septillion watts): total luminosity of sun
Sources: Smithsonian Institution, U.S. Energy Information Administration
Biggest wind producer in world, nearly 150 gigawatts in 2016, almost 40 percent of global wind power, 4 percent of national consumption. Magnetic levitation wind turbine, produces electricity even at low speeds, developed by Chinese manufacturers. About a dozen turbine manufacturers in country.
Wind power generates almost 5 percent of U.S. electricity, roughly 82 gigawatts in 2016. Annual growth of 26 percent in past 10 years. Texas has biggest wind-energy capacity, by itself the sixth biggest wind producer in the world. Iowa and Minnesota also big wind-energy producers. Utility-scale wind turbines about 52,000. Wind-industry investment new projects last 10 years, $143 billion.
About 50 gigawatts, roughly 13 percent of Germany’s total electrical power. New installations more than 5 gigawatts per year since 2014. Nearly 30,000 wind turbines onshore and offshore produced some 80 terawatt hours.
About 32 gigawatts of current capacity, aims to grow to 60 gigawatts by 2022. Global players including Enercon and Vestas re-entered India wind market. Growth hampered by Modi government’s wind-power tariffs determined by auctions.
About 23 gigawatts of capacity, generating nearly 48 terawatt hours.
Sources: American Wind Energy Association; Allianz, Munich-based financial services