Windmills do more than grind grain, and there's a lot you may not know about wind energy. Here are six surprising facts to bring you back in the loop on one of America's most promising energy opportunities.
1. Everything's bigger in Texas -- including wind.
Not all states are created equal. In 2013, 80% of our nation's wind energy originated in just 12 states, and Texas topped the list. Texas produced a whopping 36 million megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity, more than double that of Iowa, its closest competitor.
And the Lonestar State isn't stopping there. 2013 was an exceptional year for Texas wind, and the state currently has more new wind capacity under construction than any other state has installed.
2. But it's not just Texas.
The American Wind Energy Association's 2013 Annual Markets Report puts our nation's total current wind project count at 905 across 39 states. In 2013 alone, 582 new wind turbines powered up in 13 different states. While the Southeast is largely lacking in wind power, 12 states across the Midwest and West all produced at least 4 million megawatt hours (MWh) of wind-generated electricity.
3. It's for emerging economies, too.
General Electric Company (NYSE:GE) is the largest wind turbine supplier in the United States. But just last month, the company introduced a new 1.7 MW turbine designed specifically for India's needs and environment. The turbine's massive 103-meter rotor captures more energy from the country's low wind speeds, making it 30% more productive than the previous model.
General Electric Company wants to double its India wind turbine market share by 2016, and it's investing $200 million in a new domestic manufacturing facility to cut costs even more.
4. Costs ain't what they used to be.
The cost of wind energy has dropped an astonishing 85% in the last 20 years. Federal government production tax credits were supposed to end by 2012, but a year-long extension caused wind energy installations to soar in the final months before the deadline. Apparently, a 2.2 cents-per-kWh tax credit is all energy companies needed to make costs competitive with other energy investments.
But the U.S. Department of Energy wants to drop costs without the help of Uncle Sam. Through private and public research and development, the Department wants to drop land-based wind energy costs by 18% by 2010, and offshore wind by 63%.
5. Jobs, jobs, jobs.
According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), wind energy manufacturing, construction, and operation work employ at least 75,000 Americans. The NRDC estimates that an average 250 MW wind farm of 100 turbines will create a whopping 1,073 jobs over its lifetime.
6. The future of wind is far from certain.
According to the Energy Information Administration's (EIA) 2014 Annual Energy Outlook, "Solar and wind energy are expected to remain the primary sources of renewable capacity growth." The EIA mapped out eight different scenarios depicting just how little or much wind power might increase in the years to come.
Wind makes its biggest moves when it gets a boost from outside sources. The "No Sunset" case assumes production and investment tax cuts continue indefinitely, while the "GHG25" case assumes a functioning carbon market where the price of CO2 is set at $25 per metric ton in 2013.
But if the economy stumbles, or we hit it big with oil or natural gas resources, new wind energy production could come to a veritable standstill between 2020 and 2040.
Justin Loiseau owns shares of General Electric Company. The Motley Fool owns shares of General Electric Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.