How Wind Energy Gets to 300 Gigawatts by 2030

To grow, the wind energy industry must overcome its own headwinds and not rely on its past tailwinds.

The U.S. wind industry has enjoyed the tailwinds of exponential growth, favorable policy, and increasing capital investment. A growth rate of 13 percent CAGR (compound annual growth rate) in the past dozen years is testament to that, but in order to continue that momentum, the industry needs to improve reliability as the market fundamentals of wind energy change. Using even a more modest 10 percent CAGR, wind has potential to reach 300 gigawatts of capacity by 2030, and individual companies have the opportunity to pair that growth with increased profitability.

What will it take to achieve that milestone? I believe an “operations revolution” is required.

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The headwinds to growth lie in the wind industry’s inherent complexity: multiple original equipment manufacturer (OEM) technologies combined with lower power purchase agreement (PPA) pricing and the sunset of the federal Wind Production Tax Credit, among other major factors. Thinner margins driven by those factors and higher interest rates will magnify the challenge to growth. New turbine technologies have improved levelized cost of electricity but contribute to the operating complexity, requiring fleet owners to optimize operations and maintenance costs. Consider three critical questions:

  1. How many dashboards, operating systems, workflow applications, and other points of communication does your organization grapple with?
  2. How well are those inputs synthesized into impactful, decision-making insights based on the outcomes that make your business more profitable?
  3. What would it mean for your operations if you could centralize all of those core information sources into one, easily-accessible view?

The answer to that last question is that it would amount to an operations revolution powered by interconnectivity and data science. And not having clear answers to the prior two questions holds back performance, increases costs and leaves money on the table.

I was fortunate to have talented engineers in my group while running a wind business, and we were early adopters of condition-based monitoring and manual data analytics. The future operations revolution, however, will need to take full advantage of IoT and predictive analytics, as well as learnings from more advanced industries.

Solutions that take us from more than 84 gigawatts in 2017 to 300 (or more) gigawatts in 2030 are at our fingertips, but they require that we build data ecosystems that allow us to do more with what we have already. Wind operations need to keep pace with rapidly changing technology. It is now possible to synthesize the overwhelming number of signals being sent by operating systems into one insights platform.

Consider the power of having the following available to you in one place: 

  • KPI dashboards – High-level views that integrate all operations inputs, synthesizing them into trends and patterns that enable fleet managers and company executives to make strategic decisions based on real-time data. These go beyond basic reporting, surfacing information that will have the highest impact on profitability.
  • Predictive analytics – Through connected equipment, normalized data, and data science using iterative machine learning techniques, operating systems can identify and enable operators to seamlessly avoid operational disruptions before they occur, preventing downtime and saving money.
  • Action recommendations – Translate insights into action. Increase efficiency by integrating the above information into streamlined operating workflows with rules, alerts and task management.
  • Strategic intelligence – Make enterprise-level decisions around asset value, warranty/services management, and aftermarket upgrade decisions based on data that directs those high-level decisions.

Such a system is a powerful catalyst for increased productivity, reliability, safety and profitability from existing wind fleets. New capacity would also be able to come online with insights learned from these data ecosystems integrated into their operations from day one.

Wind energy is poised to be a leading sector in the data-driven operations revolution, and I am excited to see the industry meet its potential by transforming systems complexity into operations clarity. We need to start now by aggressively addressing the headwinds of complexity to unlock the potential for wind owners, operators and our customers by 2030.