This column originally appeared in the WINDPOWER show daily.
Yesterday, in our examination of trends keeping the U.S. wind industry healthy and growing, we took a look at industry trends that will help drive continued expansion.
Today, we focus on the market.
What new customers are thirsty for wind power? How will decisions from utilities drive new business? Which unconventional players are entering the market?
Here are six market trends that will ensure growth stays strong through the 2020’s.
- Non-utility demand. Commercial and industrial purchases continue to be red-hot. General Motors will soon use 100 percent wind power to make its biggest SUVs at a plant in Arlington, Texas. Amazon Web Services’ purchase in North Carolina brought utility-scale wind to the 41st state, while Home Depot has bought enough wind to power 100 stores. In fact, 53 Fortune 500 companies now have renewable energy procurement goals, with 23 of those companies setting 100 percent renewable energy targets. And more continue to join that list. Municipalities also add to demand, with cities like Chicago, Salt Lake City and Atlanta announcing 100 percent renewable energy goals in recent months.
- Natural gas prices have been edging up, and gas historically has had the most volatile energy prices. Even renewables critic Thomas Pyle of the Institute for Energy Research acknowledges it’s not in the national interest to overcommit to gas on the grid. Already wind saves consumers billions a year by moderating gas price spikes, and buyers will continue to hedge their energy bets.
- Big fossil companies are entering wind energy to diversify their assets. European oil and gas giant Statoil set a record in 2016, paying over $40 million to lease an area off the coast of Long Island for offshore wind development. Shell is even investing in wind partly because, in addition to putting electricity on the grid, wind can be used to power the electrolysis reactions that make hydrogen, a potential transportation fuel.
- Wind tech exports.The worldwide market is a customer for certain U.S. technology. Renewable NRG of Vermont, for instance, has customers in 160 countries for its met towers and resource assessment gear. By next year it’s hoping to bring to market ultrasonic deterrents to keep bats away from turbines.
- LNG exports. As LNG (liquid natural gas) exports from more ports increase, grid demand that gas now serves could be partially taken up by more wind turbines.
- Electric cars are going mainstream, spawning many variants. EV fans prefer renewables, and sales of such cars jumped by 37 percent in 2016. Although transportation currently accounts for just 0.3% of electric demand, at scale, EVs could increase electric demand grid-wide.