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Potential for US wind energy is 10.5 GW

Wind turbines on the continental USA could generate 37 PWh a year, according to a new study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

That output is three times the level of previous studies, says the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). The study is the first state-by-state update of the potential for wind energy since 1993, and examines the potential for electricity from wind if turbines were perched 80 m above the ground, higher than previous studies.

The top state for wind energy potential is Texas, which has 435,638 km2 of wind land area where the capacity factor for wind at 80 m hub height is 30%. After excluded lands (protected lands, parks, wilderness, urban area, airports, wetland, water features) are subtracted, the remaining 380,306 km2 represents 55% of the state which could install 1,901,530 MW of wind turbines and generate 6,527,850 GWh a year of renewable power.

Top 10 wind potential states

State MW of wind turbines GWh a year of wind power
Texas 1,901,530 6,527,850
Kansas 952,371 3,646,590
Montana 944,004 3,228,620
Nebraska 917,999 3,540,370
South Dakota 882,412 3,411,690
North Dakota 770,196 2,983,750
Iowa 570,714 2,026,340
Wyoming 552,073 1,944,340
Oklahoma 516,822 1,788,910
New Mexico 492,083 1,644,970

Mississippi was the only state to show no potential for wind energy, with Florida having potential for 0.4 MW of wind turbines that could generate 1 GWh per year. Other states with low wind power potential are Delaware (9.5 MW), Connecticut (26.5 MW), Rhode Island (46.6 MW) and Kentucky (60.6 MW).

Accurate information about the potential in each state for wind energy is required for Federal and state policy initiatives that will expand the use of wind energy in the USA. A collaborative project between NREL and AWS Truewind produced this comprehensive update using a national dataset of estimated gross capacity factor (not adjusted for losses) at a spatial resolution of 200 m and height of 80 m above ground.

The annual production of 365 quadrillion Btu (quads) from wind energy would be the energy equivalent of all proven oil and natural gas reserves in the USA.

US needs RES

"This new analysis confirms that America is blessed with vast wind resources that can energise our economy, create jobs, and avoid carbon for years to come ... if we give ourselves the policy tools to do so, including a strong national Renewable Electricity Standard with aggressive, binding near- and long-term targets,” says  Denise Bode of the American Wind Energy Association. “A national RES would not only ensure that we tap our nation’s vast wind resources, but create thousands of new American jobs today, manufacturing the 8000 component parts that go into a modern wind turbine.”

“The wind resource is there, vast and inexhaustible, waiting for us,” she adds. “Meanwhile, the economy can’t wait, job creation can’t wait, and America can’t wait. We need Congress to act now and pass a comprehensive climate and energy bill that includes a strong national Renewable Electricity Standard."

The potential capacity for 10 TW of wind turbines compares with the current installed capacity of 35 GW in the USA, and 158 GW around the world.

Last year, the US wind industry added 10 GW of new capacity, enough to power 2.4 million homes or generate as much electricity as three large nuclear reactors. The wind turbine fleet in place at the end of 2009 (35 GW) is enough to power 9.7 million homes, and that number is increasing at 1 million homes every five months.

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