Alternative Energy

Published on February 22nd, 2010 | by Susan Kraemer


USA Could Generate 37 Million Gigawatt-hours From Wind

The newest and by far the most scientifically accurate and detailed estimate to date of the nation’s wind power potential has just been published by the NREL in Colorado, in conjunction with AWS Truewind.

Back in 1993; when turbines were smaller and less powerful, and computers were less able to calculate wind speeds over smaller areas, the NREL calculated the potential at about one third of this. The first comprehensive calculation has just been completed. With current technology, the US has enough wind potential to generate 37 million Gigawatt-hours of electricity from wind every year: enough to provide more than 12 times what we use each year.

Image: NRELNREL_Wind

Wind Potential Mapping 2009

Estimates of wind power potential have become increasingly sophisticated since the first pencil and paper estimate in the 1830’s by John Etzler. He used loose numerical analogies to sailing ships to calculate that “the whole extent of the wind’s power over the globe amounts to about … 40,000,000,000,000 men’s power.”.

Environmentally sensitive areas were excluded for the first time.

This resource is well over our needs: we use 3 Million Gigawatt-hours of electricity every year in the USA. But we have a long way to go to generate that much electricity from wind. In 2008 we were just generating a total of just 52,000 gigawatt-hours from wind.

But this new estimate of the resource we have indicates that we could supply more than 12 times as much wind power as we’d need to supply 100% of our electricity from wind.

The 1993 estimates were lower, not just because of lower tech computing power back then, but also because turbines were smaller. Now the typical turbine (at least in Europe, where state of the art turbines are in use) stands 250 feet, which is up a third in size from the typical 165 feet from the the ’90’s.

Most turbines in the US are still not at the new global state of the art size, so the Obama administration used part of the Recovery Act stimulus funds to build a $98 million wind turbine development and testing center in South Carolina to remedy our backwardness. The stimulus funds now being invested in renewable energy from the 2009 Recovery Act has been far higher in relation to previous administrations funding to advance renewable energy.

These ARRA funds will install 16 Gigawatts of renewable power; capable of generating about 20,000 Gigawatt-hours of electricity a year.

Source: Wired

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