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Wind explained Where wind power is harnessed

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.

Good places for wind turbines are where the annual average wind speed is at least 9 miles per hour (mph)—or 4 meters per second (m/s)—for small wind turbines and 13 mph (5.8 m/s) for utility-scale turbines. Favorable sites include the tops of smooth, rounded hills; open plains and water; and mountain gaps that funnel and intensify wind.

Map of wind resources in U.S.

Map of U.S. wind resources

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

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Wind speeds are not the same across the country

Wind energy resources (based on annual average wind speeds) vary throughout the United States. Wind speeds generally change throughout the day and from season to season. For example, in Tehachapi, California, where numerous wind turbines are located, the wind blows more frequently from April through October than it does in the winter, and the wind is usually strongest in the afternoon. These fluctuations are a result of the extreme heat of the Mojave Desert during 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 Montana, strong winter winds channeled through 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 in the afternoon and during the summer. In Montana, people use more electricity, in general, during the winter.

Locations of U.S. wind power projects

In 2018, 40 states had utility-scale wind power projects.1 The five states with the most electricity generation from wind in 2018 were Texas, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kansas, and California. These states combined produced about 57% of total U.S. wind electricity generation in 2018.

International wind power

In 2016, about 952 billion kilowatthours were generated with wind energy in 128 countries. 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 2016.

  • The top five countries in wind electricity generation and their shares of world total wind electricity generation in 2016 were
  • China25%
  • United States24%
  • Germany8%
  • Spain5%
  • India5%
Picture of wind turbines in the ocean.

Wind turbines in the ocean

Source: Stock photography (copyrighted)

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. About 11 European countries have operating offshore wind energy projects.

1Utility-scale includes facilities with a least one megawatt of electricity generation capacity.

Last updated: April 4, 2019