LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The U.S. wind power industry will see half a trillion dollars of investment by 2030 to take the renewable source up to 20 percent of U.S. electricity generation, an industry conference heard on Monday.
This would be a lofty rise from wind's use for less than one percent of U.S. power today, but many advocates at the American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA) annual conference this week were bullish as the United States develops green energy alternatives.
Many aim to catch money blowing in the air that Ric O'Connell of engineering and consulting firm Black & Veatch says will total $500 billion in wind energy development in the next 25 years.
"It can be bigger than the entire dot-com revolution," said wind energy advocate and former South Dakota Democratic Senator Tom Daschle. "This can have the same economic impact."
President George W. Bush said last year that 20 percent of the nation's power needs can be met by wind. Since Bush's remarks, the AWEA and other wind energy advocates have worked to map out how to get to that target.
That would mean by 2030 there will have to be 325 gigawatts of installed wind turbines in the United States, said Michael Robinson of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
Current wind turbines can make between 1.5 and 3 megawatts per tower. A large natural gas or coal-fired power unit is often 400 megawatts and larger, while only five U.S. wind farms now have more than 260 megawatts of installed capacity.
Wind power in the United States grew by 20 percent in 2006 to about 11,600 megawatts, enough to power about 3 million U.S. homes. It is expected to grow that much again this year, the AWEA says.
"From this vantage point, it looks almost impossible," said Robert Lukefahr, president of BP Alternative Energy North America. "But you have to remember that we've made big leaps before."
Lukefahr said over the next 15 years wind power is the least costly and easiest to develop alternative to coal and natural gas. Beyond that, Lukefahr said he could not be sure what will be in store for alternative energy.
By then, nuclear power may have finally undergone its long-awaited U.S. renaissance and alternatives that use natural gas and coal like carbon capture and storage may be affordable and viable enough for wide scale use, he said.
Vic Abate, vice president for renewable energy at GE Energy, which has twice the number of installed U.S. turbines than its nearest competitor, says to cut climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions the U.S. will have to use a diverse mix of alternatives, including solar and nuclear in addition to wind.
The AWEA's gathering of the wind industry attracted 7,000 participants this week, up from 5,000 a year ago and 1,000 in 2001.