The Path to Cleaner Energy
Adding up all the qualifying windy areas, NREL projects that America could install up to 11,000 gigawatts of land-based wind power, yielding roughly 38.5 million gigawatt hours of electricity per year. That’s nine times our total electricity production today!
Offshore wind is another huge energy resource, virtually untapped in America, though a growing contributor to European power generation. NREL has concluded that U.S. ocean waters within fifty nautical miles of land, plus U.S. portions of the Great Lakes, could yield 4,000 gigawatts of wind-generating capacity,6 bringing our combined onshore and offshore wind energy potential to 15,000 gigawatts. That’s nearly fifty times the amount of wind energy that the Department of Energy says we will need to harness to supply 20 percent of our nation’s power needs by 2030.
A whole host of environmental, aesthetic, and logistical concerns can make many a wind-rich site a poor prospect for building a wind farm. From my own advocacy for onshore and offshore wind energy in New England, I know how huge a leap it can be from identifying a resource to seeing wind blades spinning on the horizon. Whether the concerns are about harm to wildlife, noise, inadequate access to transmission, or simply the interrupted view, the realm of sites acceptable to policymakers and the public is considerably smaller than the universe of wind-worthy areas. We may not want to develop every promising wind site in the nation, but it’s clear that wind energy could become a mainstay of our energy economy using just a small fraction of the available resource.