Sustainable Energy

The US wind industry installed over 1,800 megawatts in first quarter, but the coronavirus remains a risk

Key Points
  • The U.S. wind industry installed more than 1,800 megawatts of new capacity in the first quarter, according to the American Wind Energy Association. 
  • The sector is nevertheless facing up to a number of challenges related to the coronavirus pandemic. 
Wind turbines in Texas, U.S.A.
photovs | iStock | Getty Images

The first quarter of 2020 saw the U.S. wind industry install more than 1,800 megawatts (MW) of new capacity, a report from the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has revealed.

According to the AWEA's report, 11 new projects with a total capacity of 1,821 MW commenced operations in the first three months of the year.

In a statement issued Wednesday, the AWEA noted that this represented more than double the installations compared with the first quarter in 2019.

While there are clear positives in the report – which also said construction activity hit a new record in the first three months of the year – the coronavirus is casting a shadow over the sector.

The AWEA acknowledged this, stating that the pandemic was "posing significant challenges to the U.S. wind industry."

Citing its own analysis from March, the trade association said an estimated 25 gigawatts of planned projects – which represent $35 billion in investments – were at risk.

The AWEA has said that economic losses "will have an outsized impact on rural America," where 99% of wind energy projects are situated.

In another sign that "clean energy" in the U.S. is being impacted by the coronavirus, over 106,000 people working in the sector lost their jobs in March, according to research released earlier this month. 

The analysis of Department of Labor data, released by Environmental Entrepreneurs, the American Council on Renewable Energy, E4TheFuture and BW Research Partnership, painted a challenging picture for the industry. For the purposes of the analysis, the term "clean energy" encompassed a range of areas including: renewables such as solar and wind; energy storage; energy efficiency; and "clean fuels."  

Looking ahead, the analysis projected that over 500,000 people working in clean energy — 15% of the sector's workforce — would lose their jobs in the following months unless "quick and substantive action" was taken by both the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and Congress.

Wind energy in Ireland

In more positive news for the renewables sector, wind energy was Ireland's top source of electricity in the first quarter of 2020, figures released earlier this week showed.

In total, wind energy generated 3,390 gigawatt hours (GWh) in the first three months of the year, according to the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

Wind's nearest rival in electricity generation, natural gas, was responsible for 3,234 GWh in the same period.

The news was welcomed by the Irish Wind Energy Association's (IWEA) CEO, David Connolly, who was bullish about the sector's prospects.

"Today's figures show that it is only a matter of time before wind energy is Ireland's number one source of electricity," he said in a statement issued on Tuesday.

"Last year was a record-breaking year for the industry as we provided a third of the country's electricity demand," Connolly added. "The first three months of 2020 show that we are well on track to beat that record."

The IWEA said the 3,390 GWh provided by wind in the first quarter was equivalent to the annual power demand of 737,000 homes in Ireland.