New assessment of US wind energy potential: 10,500 GW

Onshore U.S. wind resources could generate nearly 37,000,000 gigawatt- hours (GWh) annually, more than nine times current total U.S. electricity consumption. The U.S. is barely tapping this vast resource: current wind installed capacity is 35 GW in the U.S. and 158 GW world-wide.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL, a major research centre of the DOE, the US Department of Energy), together with AWS Truewind (a company that specializes in weather assessments) have performed a new review of wind turbines potential for the contiguous United States.

The resource maps for the contiguous United States, and separately for each state, show the predicted mean annual wind speeds at 80-m height. Presented at a spatial resolution of 2.5 km (interpolated to a finer scale for display), they are derived from 200-m resolution maps developed by AWS Truewind for the windNavigator system®.

The research, conducted under the DOE’s Wind Powering America programme, is specifically designed as an overall assessment to provide support to federal and state policies to stimulate wind energy development.

Resource maps were developed for each state, considering the areas found suitable for wind power development (excluding, for example, wilderness areas, steep ridges, water features and urban areas), assessing wind farm potential at a height ranging between 80 and 100 metres.

Areas with annual average wind speeds around 6.5 m/s and greater at 80-m height are generally considered to have suitable wind resource for wind development. NREL has conducted a preliminary review and validation of the AWS Truewind’s 80-m map estimates for 19 selected states (6 Western states, 6 Midwestern states, and 7 Eastern states) based on tower measurements at heights of about 50 m and above from more than 300 locations.

Previous assessments by DOE, always under the Wind Powering programme, had assessed wind potential at a height of 50 metres, resulting in an estimate of 7.5 million MW.

The new review has estimated US wind potential at 10.5 million MW (as a gross capacity factor, that is without considering any loss) at the height (80-100 meters) where most new turbine towers are placed.

According to the American Wind Energy Association, assuming that wind turbines were installed to deploy the full national potential, a production of nearly 37,000 billion kWh would be achieved, equivalent to nine times current US electricity consumption.

NREL has worked with AWS Truewind for almost a decade on updating wind resource maps for 36 states and producing validated maps for 50-meter height above ground. U.S. Department of Energy’s Wind Powering America project supported the mapping efforts.

 Within this bigger "pie" of wind resources, the top 10 windiest states are:
1. Texas
2. Kansas
3. Montana
4. Nebraska
5. South Dakota
6. North Dakota
7. Iowa
8. Wyoming
9. Oklahoma
10. New Mexico

Indiana, Ohio and Oregon move into the top 20 windiest states list for the first time. In a single year, the U.S. wind resource potential could produce 364.9 quadrillion btus, the energy equivalent of all proven oil and natural gas reserves in the U.S. as estimated by the Energy Information Administration (EIA). A renewable resource, wind resource will not be depleted and will continue to provide energy year after year.