NREL: US has three times more wind electrictiy potential than previously thought

Today’s guest blogger is Tom Kenworthy, Senior Fellow at American Progress.

Last month, an NREL study showed that America could generate 20% percent of its power just with wind by 2024.  That would require about 300,000 MW or 300 GW.  The ultimate potential is much, much higher — 30 times higher (!) — as Tom Kenworthy, CAP’s Senior Fellow based in Colorado, explains.

Thanks to improvements in wind turbines over the last decade and a half, the United States has the potential to generate more than three times as much electricity from wind as previously thought, according to a new analysis from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The assessment of onshore wind energy potential found that the U.S. could produce almost 37 million gigawatt-hours yearly. According to the American Wind Energy Association, that’s nine times our current annual electricity consumption.

Expressed as gigawatts rather than gigawatt hours, the new estimate for the U.S. wind resource is 10,000 gigawatts, an amount that dwarfs currently installed wind power which totals about 35 gigawatts – enough to power 9.7 million homes. Obviously there’s plenty more where that comes from, even more if offshore wind is included.

NREL’s last analysis in 1993, when wind turbine heights were more limited, estimated U.S. onshore wind potential at less than 10.8 million gigawatt hours.

As noted by Denise Bode, CEO of the American Wind Energy Association, the new assessment is more than a number, it’s another compelling argument for passage of comprehensive clean energy and climate legislation by Congress:

This new analysis confirms that America is blessed with vast wind resources that can energize 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.  A national Renewable Electricity Standard would not only ensure that we tap our nation’s vast wind resources, but create thousands of new American jobs today, manufacturing the 8,000 component parts that go into a modern wind turbine. The wind resource is there, vast and inexhaustible, waiting for us. 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.

Amen to that.

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26 Responses to NREL: US has three times more wind electrictiy potential than previously thought

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    But as any pro-nuclear zealot will gladly tell you, we can’t use all that wind energy because the wind doesn’t always blow, and we have no idea how to store energy thermally, kinetically or chemically, and the invention of batteries or compressed air or flywheels is far beyond our reach, so instead of deploying the mature, powerful wind and solar energy technologies that are ready to go today, we need a “renaissance” of 4th generation nuclear power plants that will take decades to even bring to prototype stage. And anyone who disagrees is driven by irrational fear and is anti-science.

    But seriously … looking at this study, and the various studies that have found that concentrating solar thermal power on 3-5 percent of the USA’s deserts could also produce more electricity than the entire country uses … and Solyndra’s study that found PV on existing commercial rooftops could produce at least 180 GW of electricity … and on and on … one feels the need to ask, what the hell is the problem?

    Let’s get ‘er done.

  2. John McCormick says:

    Joe, a 3 megawatt wind tower generator includes a permanent magnet and its manufacture requires about a ton of neodymium, a rare earth metal mined, processed and the magnet manufactured primarily in China. China has instituted a rare earth metals reserve and will likely cut export of neodymium and divert its domestic supplies to domestic production facilities.

    This deserves some attention.

    John McCormick

  3. elbarto says:

    Induction generators are widely used in wind turbines. These are constructed from copper and iron. Sure, Powerful NdFeB magnet generators are the most efficient. But if Nd becomes expensive / non-existent “the market” will simply select the simpler and more robust induction generator.

    The rare earth argument against wind turbines is a straw man. Induction generators suffer a small efficiency loss due to the need to generate an excitation field but they work just fine.

  4. Jay Turner says:

    The baseload power fallacy is a great excuse to build nuclear plants or to keep using fossil fuels. When a homeowner in a remote area relies on wind power, the system has batteries and a resistance coil or other means to dump the excess power. What do we do now with “baseload” power that isn’t needed? We offer it at cut rates, and whatever doesn’t get used, we waste. We should be able to incorporate as much windpower as we can afford to build, as long as we don’t mind wasting what we can’t store. As we get better at managing load and storing energy, the costs of the system will go down. And we can keep enough gas-fired plants around to pitch in when it’s dark, cold and windless.

    The issue with the supply of rare earths means that there’s a huge opportunity for innovation. As prices for neodymium and magnets from China go up, there will be a market opportunity for manufacturers who can come up with other ways to build turbines that don’t require neodymium or that use less of it.

  5. elbarto says:

    Wind turbine generators don’t require Nd, they never have. Only the highest efficiency latest technology permanent magnet generators do…

    Induction generators iron + copper…

  6. Robert says:

    Hi SecularAnimist,
    Fear not, THE SKY [to the bottom of the ocean] IS [IS] THE LIMIT! Sustainable Energy abounds as Joe’s article exampmlifies and Sustainable Energy Storage also abounds. It is my privilege to point to Professor [Prof. of Mechanical Engineering] Seamus Garvey in England. Use his name to locate a Green Car Congress article that focus on his concept of [affordable] underwater compressed air storage. But the latest news is his Energy Storage Device is being considered for funding. The follow-on story is that there are 3 YouTube video clips that feature him as a young dynamic personality and his prototype projects. [too much to mention hear]

  7. fj2 says:

    sounds like a lot of jobs.

  8. fj2 says:

    and, i guess the deniers are saying “its no use building all this new great stuff. its ok just the way things are now.”


  9. prokaryote says:

    Security Via Decentralized Energy
    Energy Security, Climate Change and Decentralized Energy

    Wind Power – to Combat Climate Change–1Pf-7zk

    Project Better Place: An introduction film

    “Israel is detaching itself from oil,” said Shai Agassi (photo), the 41-year-old, Israeli-born founder of the company. The government “really wants this to happen,” he said. “It is a national project.”
    Deals have been announced in other densely packed “transportation islands,” as Agassi calls them, in Denmark, Australia, San Francisco, Hawaii, the west coast of Canada, along with a small taxi scheme in Japan.

    Israel Defense Forces Eyes “Better Place” Electric Car Grid for Military Bases

  10. Mike#22 says:

    (typo in title)

    Rare earth metals are in fact relatively abundant. USGS estimates for global reserves are about 800X annual production.

    Investors take note: Neodymium production and NdFeB magnet manufacturing will take off, and we will have some price spikes. Good! These powerful magnets allow the production of simple/robust generators and motors. Induction motors are great–look at the EV1 or the Tesla–but we need lots of wind turbines and lots of EV motors right now.

    All this wind power available, and cheap…

    What the hell is the problem?

  11. Leif says:

    Gosh, 37 Million gigawatt hr yearly. At thirteen cents a kW, my current rate, that is how much money generated and recycled right here in the good old US of A?
    Not going into debt and paying interest to foreign lenders.
    Come on GOP, the Chinese and Arabs are happy as hell to have you on there side. I do not see how it can be denied that our countries’ current debt load is going to take some serious positive cash flow from someplace. Why NOT sustainable energy.
    Produced here, consumed here, Turned into products here.
    Green cash flow!
    Dollars from the sun.
    For ever more! Which we will need if we want to make a dent in the current National Debt.
    Gee wiz, GOP, how long are you going to beat a dead horse.
    The rules are changing, me thinks.

  12. Ken Johnson says:

    Re “baseload power,” dumb question: Is compressed-air storage fundamentally any more difficult than CCS (or nuclear)?

  13. Ken Johnson says:

    Another dumb question: Why RES? Why not something like feed-in tariffs?

  14. J.A. Turner says:

    Re: #13. Feed in tarriffs are part of the solution but renewable energy standards are an enforcement mechanism to ensure that real progress is being made and that utilities don’t find excuses to keep rolling out more polluting power plants or buying out of state coal-generated power. Without the renewable energy standard here in California, the utilities would be a lot less motivated to pursue renewables–it would be easier just to keep buying out of state coal power. And, can you imagine Utah or West Virginia rolling out solar, wind, biomass and geothermal to displace coal? It will take a federal RES to get them to do more than a token effort.

  15. Mark S. says:

    It seems that this reassessment is due to the higher altitude winds that are now being tapped into by current wind turbines/towers. However, newly conceived methods such as laddermills and tether-based approaches could allow accessing even more energetic (and persistent) winds at very high (several miles) altitudes.

  16. Ken Johnson says:

    J.A. Turner – I’m skeptical that an RES can be rigidly “enforced”. What is the noncompliance penalty? Throw utility officers in jail? Shut down their business? Probably all they will do is pay a fine. So an RES is fundamentally just a pricing instrument, one that is designed to eliminate the price incentive once the target is achieved. What is the point in limiting emission-reduction incentives to a predetermined target? If the target is set to achieve climate stabilization at a safe and adequate GHG concentration level, I could see the rationale for a standard. But I doubt that the federal RES target would have any connection to the requirements of climate science.

  17. mark says:

    Thanks, very interesting, and encouraging.

  18. John Stanley says:

    Compressed air storage is incomparably simpler, safer than either nuclear or CCS, as well as already proven. And the compressor can be integral to the wind turbine, as in the General Compression patents: check out

    As for “climate skepticism” we need to take every opportunity to expose it as anything but authentic skepticism, or some kind of “laymans science”. It is nothing but a “permanent fossil-carbon PR campaign”, funded & organized through proxies and tame media outlets…a sociopathic, systematic bullying of both scientists and the public.

  19. Maintaining electrical machinery in saltwater environments is possible but expensive. Perhaps a better solution would be to drive an air compressor, building up pressure in a container which then runs an air turbine to spin the electrical generator ashore. Like a spinning wheel, this converts brief pushes into a steady rotary motion.

    Compressed air has been used for a hundred years in this manner in a few places. It neatly solves the baseload problem and its need for more intelligent electrical grids.

  20. Daniel Ives says:

    A national RES is also important because it shows renewable energy companies that the United States is serious about developing renewables. It encourages them to build infrastructure here, creating jobs. Here in Colorado, we have a very strong RES. As a result, we have attracted numerous solar companies and wind companies who have built manufacturing and business headquarters here. I’m not saying that the RES is the only reason, I’m sure there were other reasons these companies set up camp here. But I’m positive that a strong national RES will create permanent jobs. And since jobs are the big popular issue right now with Americans, what are we waiting for?

  21. aaron says:

    If you are interested in getting an idea of exactly how big these turbines actually are, here is a great article with a few videos of the instalation and insides of 1.5MW turbines. I can only immagine what 7-10MW turbines look like.

  22. homunq says:

    More articles on the feasibility of tethered (kite-type) wind power, please.

  23. John McCormick says:

    RE #5 Elberto:

    If size and weight are important, then hard ferrites may not be an option. In the size range of 2.5 MW and above, size and efficiency are drivers of the designs. NdFeB magnets are the only choice that fit.

    John McCormick

  24. David Murray says:

    Robert told me to look at Seamus Garvey’s clip on energy storage. In another clip (Seamus and his energy bags) Seamus makes the point that it is despatchable power which is really important.

    Energy bags, pumped hydro, stored solar and batteries can turn intermittent power (which is not very useful) into despatchable power (which is much more useful than baseload power).

    So we can justifiably talk about clean despatchable renewable power – in contrast to dirty baseload fossil power. Thankyou to Seamus and all the other engineers making this possible.

    David Murray

  25. elbarto says:

    RE #23. ABB manufactures induction generators over 5MW.

    That permanent magnet generators are the only choice is false. If Nd becomes scarce then it will drive further improvement in induction technology.

  26. Mike M says:

    Windmills kill birds – lots of em. 10’s of thousands per year plus bats in Altamont pass alone and many are protected species. (Funny how quiet Audubon, WWF and Sierra are about this huh?)

    Long power transmission lines to windmills off in some remote area must be heavy enough to carry peak output but output is rarely ever above 25% of peak – huge waste of money. (and I’ve never seen the energy to make transmission lines included in energy break-even calculations.)