As global climate efforts intensify this year, a renewable power source is setting new records. Wind’s costs are plummeting in the United States, and offshore farms are soaring in Europe—at least for now.
Worldwide, wind power expanded more last year than ever before
, and new reports show it’s continuing to gain ground. Since it emits no heat-trapping carbon dioxide, wind will be a key tool for countries crafting a new UN-led climate accord this December in Paris.
Europe’s offshore wind farms are producing record amounts of power. They tripled capacity in the first six months of this year compared to the same period of 2014, owing largely to “explosive growth in Germany and the use of higher capacity wind turbines,” according to a recent report by European Wind Energy Association
, an industry group.In the U.S., wind now provides 5 percent of the nation’s electricity, the Department of Energy reported this week
. It can produce 66 gigawatts (a gigawatt is a billion watts), enough to power 17.5 million homes. American companies are also joining the move off land. This year, near the coast of Rhode Island, the first U.S. offshore wind farm broke ground
Better technology has helped wind’s wholesale cost fall to an all-time low—just 2.35 cents per kilowatt hour, a drop of two-thirds from its 2009 peak, the DOE report says. “Wind projects are economically viable in a growing number of locations throughout the U.S.,” says co-author Ryan Wiser, senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, noting turbines are getting taller and their blades are wider.
Wind isn’t just expanding in the world’s top three producers, which include China, the U.S. and Germany. It’s also grown rapidly in India, which had the world’s fifth largest capacity by the end of last year, according to the Global Wind Energy Council.