When it comes to wind energy, there's a lot of hot air blowing around. Proponents and opponents alike are guilty of forming opinions without evidence, and energy analysis can often be more mystery than methodology. To help you weave your way through wind's worth, here are 10 fascinating facts about wind energy.
1. Wind energy is the fastest-growing source of electricity production in the world.
2. Of all new generating capacity installed between 2008 and 2012, 36.5% was wind.
3. NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE), the nation's largest renewable-energy utility, relies on more than 10,000 net MW of wind across 100 farms for 57% of its total capacity.
4. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that there are 4,150,000 MW of wind turbine capacity blowing offshore the United States.
5. Wind turbines aren't without their mishaps. "Not in My Back Yard" opponents point to all sorts of operational issues, including collapses, fires, and even explosions. NextEra Energy (NYSE: NEE) is currently suing an environmental activist who created a parody of its logo, calling the utility "NexTerror" and "NextError" after she filmed workers removing a bald eagle nest to make way for wind turbines.
6. The Shepherds Flat Wind Farm in Oregon is the largest wind farm in the U.S., clocking in at 846 MW. Caithness Energy completed construction in 2012, and 100% of the electricity heads to Edison International's (NYSE:EIX) Southern California Edison utility, providing enough electricity for 235,000 homes.
7. Some corporations are investing directly in wind. Google (NASDAQ:GOOGL) has a 37.5% stake in a 7,000 MW offshore Atlantic Ocean wind farm, while Wal-Mart uses wind power from Duke Energy's (NYSE:DUK) 1,000-plus MW of wind for 15% of the energy needs of 350 Texas stores.
8. Google recently acquired Makani Power, an energy start-up developing floating wind farms, able to capture high-altitude winds that churn out power for $0.03 per kilowatt hour.
9. General Electric (NYSE:GE) currently offers 11 different wind turbines for energy companies to choose from. Starting at 1.5 MW with 120-foot blades, GE's arsenal ups its way to a 4.1 MW offshore model with 185-foot blades.
10. Over the next three years, wind power is expected to increase by a whopping 34%. Predictions were pushed 9 percentage points higher after Congress voted in January to extend wind's renewable-energy production tax credit.
Will wind win?
When it comes to wind, there's a lot that's still unknown. The future of wind will depend on the length of government tax credits, environmental regulation rigidity, the speed at which technology improves, and wind's relative competitiveness compared with other traditional and renewable fuels. These fascinating facts don't tell all, but they provide evidence of an energy source well worth watching.