Wind energy generation tripled in the United States in the past six years, and according to a recent U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) report, we have the potential to breeze far past that expansion by installing bigger and better wind turbines.
The 2015 report, titled “Enabling Wind Power Nationwide,” explains that key advances in wind turbine technology will help expand wind power generation across the nation, to all 50 states. Currently, wind turbines operate in 39 states, and these turbines are typically about 260 feet tall. The DOE is collaborating with its industry partners to develop larger turbine towers that reach 360 to 460 feet high, which will harness the energy of the more elevated wind streams found in certain regions. Developers are also seeking to increase blade length on turbines to capture electricity more efficiently.
According to the report, the U.S. region with the most potential for expansion is the Southeast, including Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina. In this large swath of the country, wind speeds close to the ground aren’t usually strong or consistent enough for today’s turbines — but the taller turbines of tomorrow could generate a significant amount of wind power in these states. The report’s authors estimate that the bigger, better turbines of the future could unlock the wind energy potential of about 700,000 square miles — about a fifth of the land area of the country.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz points out that wind generation exceeds 4.5 percent of total power generation in the United States so far. “We are focused on expanding its clean power potential to every state in the country,” he says. “By producing the next generation of larger and more efficient wind turbines, we can create thousands of new jobs and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as we fully unlock wind power as a critical national resource.”
The DOE collaborated with scientists, engineers, and wind energy experts to release a related analysis called the “Wind Vision Report,” which provides a road map of just how much wind power we could produce in the coming years. The analysts say we can reach 35 percent wind energy generation by the year 2050. This kind of expansion could support an estimated 600,000 U.S. jobs. The researchers also looked at the amount of pollution this kind of bolstered wind energy landscape could curtail. In taking a snapshot of one recent year — 2013 — they found that the operating wind energy capacity avoided more than 250,000 metric tons of air pollutants, including sulfur dioxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter. By 2050, they estimate that wind energy could avoid the emissions of 12.3 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases.