About 40% of US electricity is generated by burning natural gas. Another roughly 30% comes from burning coal and about 10% is generated by nuclear fission. Wind-generated power accounts for 1.8% of all US generating capacity.
The US added 10,000 megawatts of wind generation in 2009, bringing the total capacity to about 35,000 megawatts. On average, a single US home consumes about 1.1 megawatt/hours of electricity annually. If there are three people in an average household, all the wind energy in the US provides enough electricity annually for about 3.5 million of the 110 million or so US households, according to the American Wind Energy Association.
In Europe, wind power generates 142 million megawatts hour, just over 4% of the EU’s total demand for electricity, and enough to supply some 35 million households. EU countries added just over 10,000 megawatts of capacity in 2009, almost exactly the same amount as the US added.
China added 12,400 megawatts of wind power in 2009, and is now third in the world behind the US and Germany in wind power generation with a capacity of more than 25,000 megawatts. Unfortunately, in 2008, nearly 4,000 megawatts of turbine capacity was not connected to China’s power transmission and distribution grid. There’s no data available for 2009 yet.
China’s experience reveals one of the fundamental problems facing wind generation: government-mandated development nearly always makes at least one serious blunder. That’s because governments are under strong and diversified pressure to make winners out of everyone.
While China’s central planning culture may be the poster child for how government can foul things up, Germany’s experience illustrates some related problems. In 1990, Germany instituted a feed-in tariff system to encourage the development of renewable energy. Under the law, renewable energy suppliers are guaranteed that they will be able to sell their electricity at a profit for 20 years. Germany’s feed-in tariff worked, to the extent that the country now gets about 15% of its total electricity from renewable sources.