By: ASHLEY EADY |
Globally, wind energy has been the fastest growing renewable energy source over the past decade, experiencing a 16 percent growth rate in 2011 alone.
Researchers with the Global Wind Energy Council anticipate annual average installation rates to continue to increase at 15.5 percent each year through 2015.
As of 2010, Texas already generated 7.8 percent of its electricity with wind and led the nation for the most installed wind energy capacity.
According to the Texas State Energy Conservation Office, the Texas Plains Region has some of the greatest wind energy potential in the U.S. and is home to more than 24 percent of wind energy operations in Texas.
“Wind energy is a key component to the future of the energy industry, and West Texas is a very wind rich area,” said Andy Swift, professor of Civil Engineering and director of the Texas Wind Energy Institute. “The West Texas region offers leveraging opportunities in the industry with a wind rich area that is only partially developed. The future of wind energy in this area is huge.”
Renewable energy is aniticpated to replace fossil fuel as the primary energy source over the next 50 years.
More than 75,000 Texans are directly employed in the wind energy industry, with many others employed by support and supply industries.
With a renewable energy boom on the horizon and a resource rich environment, wind energy experts recognized the need for education relating to the industry in the South Plains.
In 2008, with a grant from the Texas Workforce Commission for wind energy education, Texas Tech and Texas State Technical College partnered to form the Texas Wind Energy Institute.
This partnership established the first wind energy educational program to offer a doctorate in the nation, and has grown since then to include undergraduate programs, graduate level certificate programs, masters programs, distance learning and continuing education classes.
Today, students enrolled in the Texas Wind Energy Institute have a variety of educational options available. From traditional face-to-face students, to a pilot stationed in Afghanistan, people all over the world now have access to learning the wind energy field through Texas Tech.
“The energy industry in general is huge in West Texas,” Swift said. “The key to keeping energy costs reasonable is to diversify. Never put all of your eggs in one basket.”
Gas and wind energy are, according to Swift, very complementary. “Wind doesn’t use water, creates no emissions, and doesn’t deplete natural resources. There is an unlimited supply. The emerging wind energy field can actually help keep gas prices low.”
According to Swift, wind energy is the third-cheapest alternative energy source available and is the only energy source that is not government subsidized as an industry.
“There is a popular misconception that the entire industry is subsidized, but that is not true,” said Swift. “In fact, if wind does not get a federal tax credit, it will remain the only energy source in this country that isn’t.
“Wind is a major component of the future of the energy industry. For this region, that will be very beneficial economically.
“Wind on it’s own is very affordable. It isn’t going to run out. Technology may change, but the well won’t run dry.