Installed Wind Energy Grew Quickly in 2011

Wind turbines and turbine blades are growing larger, as well. The new DOE report says about $14 billion of wind capacity was added in the United States in 2011.

A new "Wind Technologies Market Report" from the U.S. Department of Energy shows how quickly the installation of wind energy equipment progressed in the United States during 2011 -– about 6.4 GW of new capacity worth $14 billion was added, with wind installations being 31 percent above the previous year but down from higher levels in 2008 and 2009.

China is installing wind energy even faster, which means the U.S. ranks second in capacity additions and in cumulative capacity, with nearly 20 percent of the world's total capacity, according to the report. The Chinese thirst for wind power has been obvious to those watching announcements by Vestas, Gamesa, and other international manufacturers.

DOE posted a map showing wind energy manufacturing sites in the United States, and it shows they are scattered throughout the country.

Wind turbine construction and maintenance involves confined space and fall protection challenges. These challenges will increase because manufacturers are racing to make turbines and blades ever larger to increase their production. Siemens, for one, announced in August 2012 that it has built the world's largest rotor blades -- they are 75 meters long -- for a Danish offshore installation. The 75-meter blades are part of a 154-meter rotor that "must withstand huge air masses" and wind speeds often at meters per second, with the tips of the blades moving at up to 180 mph, according to Siemens, and the fiberglass blade is as much as 20 percent lighter than rotor blades produced with conventional methods.

The DOE report also says the percentage of wind equipment made in America increased dramatically during 2011, so that nearly 70 percent of the equipment installed at U.S. wind farms last year came from domestic manufacturers. The comparable figure in 2005 was only 35 percent.

"This report shows that America can lead the world in the global race to manufacture and deploy clean energy technologies," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "The wind industry employs tens of thousands of American workers and has played a key role in helping to more than double wind power over the last four years. To ensure that this industry continues to stay competitive, President Obama has called on Congress to extend the successful clean energy tax credits, which are benefitting businesses and manufacturers nationwide."

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