As oil prices climb, now you can wind power your electric car

Unrest in oil–producing countries–and resulting prices for gasoline now topping $4–a–gallon in some areas of the country–have turned attention to how America can power more of its vehicles with homegrown energy, and how wind power can help.

With the electric cars and plug–in hybrids now being rolled out by major automakers, wind energy stands ready to become an important player in the nation’s transportation fuel mix, industry leaders say.

Electric vehicles with lithium ion batteries now entering the market can be charged simply by plugging them into an outlet at home or at work. That will create more demand for electricity. "The good news is, all the needed electricity can come from wind energy, which is clean, affordable, inexhaustible–and, of course, homegrown," said Elizabeth Salerno, Director of Industry Data & Analysis at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). In 2008 and 2009, wind farm created more new U.S. electric generating capacity than any other source.

Wind power also allows America to tap its own energy resources in another way: by providing an alternative to another transportation energy source that is abundant here: natural gas. Today natural gas already powers many vehicles such as public buses and taxicabs. With more wind power coming online, natural gas that might otherwise be used for power plants becomes available to affordably fuel more vehicles, which could extend to passenger cars and trucks. That is the Pickens Plan, advanced by T. Boone Pickens, which AWEA supports. Thus wind power lets America drive on its own energy sources in at least two ways.

Wind turbines industry leaders will take questions on this and other topics on a press conference call tomorrow, Tuesday March 1, at 1 p.m. EST. Credentialed journalists only can participate by calling 1–800–326–0013, access code 5241169#.

Tapping homegrown wind energy to power our cars could have a major impact on America’s dependence on imported oil over time. According to Salerno, if plug-in hybrids were to grow to half the U.S. vehicle fleet, for example, and those vehicles were charged with clean wind energy:

*America would avoid the use of over 60 billion gallons of gasoline a year

*America would use 3 billion fewer barrels of oil a year

*It would take 143 gigawatts of wind energy–less than 2% of the total wind resource potential in the U.S.

We don’t have to wait that long to get the benefits of driving on wind power. "Just one 100-megawatt wind farm generates enough electricity in a year to power one billion miles of plug-in hybrid driving," Salerno says. "Sliced another way, that’s enough for 87,500 plug–in hybrid electric vehicles to drive 12,000 miles a year, from just one typical wind farm."

And with wind power more affordable than ever, the cost savings quickly mount up. Thanks to improvements in technology and efficiency and state Renewable Electricity Standards, one can drive an electric car or plug-in hybrid on wind turbines generated electricity for at most 3 cents per mile. That compares to 14.4 cents for gasoline, at today’s prices.

Oil price volatility has repeatedly hurt America’s wallet and impacted its economy, starting with the energy crisis of the early 1970s, and again in the price spikes of 2000, 2008, and now 2011. Wind energy experts point not only to wind’s affordability but its price stability: the fuel that turns a wind turbine’s blades–i.e., the wind–will always be free and inexhaustible. And, utilities typically sign fixed-price contracts with wind farms lasting 20 to 30 years.

"Wind energy is a good choice to power Americans’ cars and cut our dependence on imported oil," says AWEA CEO Denise Bode. "With electric and plug–in hybrid cars entering the market, wind power is already a mainstream, affordable energy source, one that is held back only by an absence of policy consistency."

"To strengthen our national security, America must diversify our transportation sector’s energy portfolio, as well as the electric grid," according to Bode. She said the best ways to do that would be a national Renewable Electricity Standard, and an extension for 5–10 years of the Production Tax Credit for renewable energy that currently expires in 2012.

Wind power is homegrown in ways beyond the energy it yields. Over 400 U.S.–based manufacturing plants now serve the American wind power industry, and approximately 50 percent of what goes into a U.S.–deployed wind turbine is now made in the U.S. Both of those numbers will continue to grow as the industry grows and manufacturers locate factories near the demand for wind energy. Thus, wind turbines themselves are increasingly American-made–as is the power they produce.