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Government

While it isn't gusting, wind technology development is picking up

Major home retailers are testing wind technologies and the government is accelerating evaluations of wind farm plans.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor on

Don’t you wish you worked in an industry posting 22 percent annual growth, during a SLOWDOWN year?

That was the rate of expansion posted by wind energy companies during 2010. But as we enter the second half of 2011, there are signs that wind technology is getting renewed support at both the commercial and residential level.

Indeed, a report from Pike Research predicts that capacity could triple between 2010 and 2017. That would be a growth from 194.3 gigawatts in 2010 to 562.9 gigawatts.

Notes Peter Asmus, a senior analyst for Pike Research:

“Despite the challenging market conditions for the wind energy industry, this is a dynamic time for innovation in the market. Equipment vendors are pushing turbines to sizes never before thought practical or economical. Some of the world’s top engineering challenges of the 21st century are taking place in factories longer than football fields. But there is also much at stake as the companies push technological limits and take major market risks in an increasingly competitive sector.”

For perspective, the 2010 growth rate reported by Pike Research was off significantly from two boom years: 2008 (29 percent growth) and 2009 (32 percent growth). Since the typical development cycle for a wind farm can be up to 18 months long, last year’s growth rate reflects a drop-off in interest during the global recession. So, we'll have a good sense of whether the research prediction is on track by about 18 months from now.

There are some encouraging signs of movement on both the residential and utility-scale level.

For example, the government said this week that it is actively reviewing the environmental and socioeconomic impact of wind development leases off the coasts of Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. In a statement, Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar said:

“America’s offshore wind resources offer great potential for helping power the Eastern seaboard and spurring new jobs and innovation. The ‘Smart from the Start’ initiative will help companies identify areas offshore that are best suited for wind development, while also reducing the potential for costly delays and red tape. With today’s announcement, we are taking another step toward ensuring that renewable development along the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) becomes a reality.”

The other thing I'm keeping close tabs on are the small, residentially focused wind turbines showing up at the big-name home improvement retailers.

For example, among the technologies that Home Depot is testing is a $649-ish wind turbine from Southwest Windpower. The 27-inch generator is pitches as a "great power source for hobbies, cottages and remote- and backup power appliances." So, it isn't exactly going to run your whole house, but the presence of technologies such as these at major retailers has got to be great for the wind cause.

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