Wind power plants require careful planning

Operating a wind power plant is more complex than simply erecting wind turbines in a windy area. Wind power plant owners must carefully plan where to position wind turbines. It is important to consider how fast and how often the wind blows at the site.

Map of U.S. wind resources
Map of wind resources in U.S.
Click to enlarge »

Source: National Renewable Energy Laboratory, U.S. Department of Energy (public domain)

Wind turbines in the ocean
Picture of wind turbines in the ocean.

Source: Stock photography (copyrighted)

Wind speed typically increases with altitude and increases over open areas without windbreaks. Good sites for wind turbines include the tops of smooth, rounded hills, open plains or shorelines, and mountain gaps that funnel and intensify wind.

Wind speeds are not the same across the country

Wind speeds vary throughout the United States. Wind speeds also vary throughout the day and from season to season. In Tehachapi, California, the wind blows more frequently from April through October than it does in the winter. This is a result of the extreme heat of the Mojave Desert during the summer months. The hot air over the desert rises, and the cooler, denser air above the Pacific Ocean rushes through the Tehachapi mountain pass to take its place. In a state like Montana, the wind blows more frequently during the winter.

Fortunately, the seasonal variations in California and Montana match the electricity demands of the regions. In California, people use more electricity during the summer for air conditioners. In Montana, people use more electricity during the winter.

Locations of major wind power projects

Wind power projects with one or more large wind turbines were located in 39 states in 2014. The five states with the largest generation of electricity from wind in 2014 were Texas, Iowa, California, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

International wind power

Most of the wind power plants in the world are located in Europe and in the United States where government programs have helped support wind power development. However, China increased wind electricity generation from about 6 billion kilowatthours (kWh) in 2007 to 96 billion kWh in 2012 to become the second-largest producer of wind electricity in the world. The United States led the world in wind power generation in 2012, followed by China, Germany, Spain, and India.

Offshore wind power

There is potential for significant electricity generation from wind energy in the waters off the coasts of the United States, and there are plans for several offshore wind projects in New England. There are many off-shore wind energy projects operating in Europe.