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 and must 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.
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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 and water; 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 fluctuation is a result of the extreme heat of the Mojave Desert during the summer months. As the hot air over the desert rises, the cooler, denser air above the Pacific Ocean rushes through the Tehachapi mountain pass to take its place. In a high altitude Great Plains state like Montana, strong winter winds channeled through the Rocky Mountain valleys create more intense winds during the winter.

Fortunately, the seasonal variations in wind speeds in California and Montana match the electricity demands of consumers in those states. In California, people use more electricity during the summer for air conditioners. In Montana, people use more electricity, in general, during the winter.

Locations of U.S. wind power projects

In 2016, 40 states had utility-scale wind power projects. The five states with the most electricity generation from wind in 2016 were Texas, Iowa, Oklahoma, Kansas, and California. These states combined produced about 55% of total U.S. wind electricity generation in 2016.

International wind power

About 90 countries generate electricity with wind energy. Most wind power projects are located in Europe and in the United States where government programs have supported wind power development. China and India have increased wind electricity generation in recent years and were among the top five producers of electricity generation from wind in 2014. The United States led the world in wind power generation in 2014, followed by China, Germany, Spain, and India.

Offshore wind power

The waters off the coasts of the United States have significant potential for electricity generation from wind energy. The first U.S. offshore wind power project began operation off the coast of Rhode Island in 2016. Several other wind projects off the U.S. East Coast are in the planning stages. Europe has a number of operating offshore wind energy projects.