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Wind in a Minute

  • In the United States, wind energy contributed more than 3.5 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity last year.
  • On wind farms, wind turbines occupy only about 5% of the land, leaving the rest available for other uses.
  • Excellent wind resources are widely dispersed throughout the world. Almost every country has some areas with good wind resources.
  • Power in the wind is proportional to the cube of the wind speed. Therefore, locations with higher average wind speeds have much higher energy resources. The windier the location, the more kilowatt-hours can be produced by the same equipment, and the lower the overall cost of energy.
  • The total U.S. wind resource is very large. Although every region in the country has some windy areas, much of the U.S. wind resources are concentrated in the Great Plains. For example, the state of North Dakota alone has enough energy from good wind areas to supply 36% of the 1990 electricity consumption in the lower 48 states.
  • Wind power plant electricity generating costs have gone from $0.30/kWh in 1981 to $0.05/kWh in 1990--an 84% decrease in cost.
  • In California, about 1600 megawatts (MW) of rated capacity is installed (as much as two large coal-fired power plants); in Europe, more than 4000 MW is installed. The wind power plants in California produce 1.2% of the electricity used by California or 0.1% of the electricity used by the United States--enough to supply the needs of both San Francisco and Washington, D.C., for example.
  • Existing wind power plants produce electricity at a levelized cost of $0.05/kWh to $0.08/kWh at a site with an average annual wind speed through the rotor of 15.4 miles per hour (mph). Those turbines cost as little as $1,000/kW and last as long as 20 years. New turbines are coming on line that produce electricity at less than $0.05/kWh; they cost as little as $750/kW and have expected lifetimes of 20 to 30 years. Turbine availability of power plants is 95% or more, better than that of most conventional power plants. Operation and maintenance costs are typically lower than those for conventional power plants.
  • Existing wind power plants exploit very windy locations with average annual wind speeds of at least 16 mph. The United States could supply 20% of its electricity from these very windy locations with existing technology producing 560,000 million kWh per year. These areas cover 18,000 square miles--0.6% of the lower 48 states. Less than 5% of this land would be used by the equipment and access roads; most of the existing land use, such as ranching and farming, would not be affected.
  • By 2000, wind-generated electricity will cost as little as $0.025/kWh in some locations. At this price, it can compete with any type of conventional generation.