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Wind Resource Assessment and Characterization

A crucial factor in the development, siting, and operation of a wind farm is the ability to assess and characterize available wind resources. The Wind Program supports efforts to accurately define, measure, and forecast the nation's land-based and offshore wind resources. More accurate prediction and measurement of wind speed and direction allow wind farms to supply clean, renewable power to businesses and homeowners at lower costs. The program is leading a portfolio of wind integration, transmission, and resource assessment and characterization projects that will help the industry understand how to reliably integrate large quantities of wind energy into system operations, as well as develop capabilities that will enable these new wind installations to actively improve the quality of electric grid.

Land-Based and Offshore Wind Resource Map

An image of the wind resource map that shows where the United States wind resources are located.

The map shown above provides wind developers and policy makers with a seamless representation of wind speeds estimated at a wind turbine hub height of 80 meters, as well as offshore resources up to 50 nautical miles from shore.

For state-level wind resource maps, see the WINDExchange website. Download wind datasets from the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Learn more about wind resource potential.

A technical wind resource assessment completed by the Wind Program in 2009 estimated that the land-based wind energy potential for the contiguous United States is 10,500 gigawatt (GW) capacity at 80 meters (m) and 12,000 GW capacity at 100 m heights, assuming a capacity factor of at least 30%.

A 2016 assessment of offshore wind resources refines previous assessments by first calculating the gross resource potential within 200 nautical miles of shore using 100-meter hub heights as 10,800 GW. Technical, environmental, and competing-use exclusions are then applied to find a technical resource potential of 2,058 GW of capacity or 7,203 terawatt-hours per year of generation, which is nearly double the nation’s annual electricity use. As illustrated below, the technical resource potential applies technological exclusions such as where the water is deeper than 1,000 meters or where wind speeds less than 7 meters per second, as well as land-use and environmental exclusions such as shipping lanes, wildlife refuges, and marine protected areas. 

An illustration showing the overlap of total resource potential and technical resource potential.

Land-Based Potential Wind Capacity Maps

United States wind potential capacity at 140 meters.

The map shown above identifies areas throughout the country that have an average wind energy capacity factor of 35% or greater at a turbine hub height of 140 meters (459 feet), representing planned turbine advancements. An additional map identifies areas with the same potential capacity at a turbine hub height of 110 meters (361 feet), representing recent advancements in turbine technology. The Energy Department's report, Enabling Wind Power Nationwide, confirms that the key to unlocking wind energy’s potential in all 50 states is to access the stronger and more consistent winds found at increased heights above the ground.

Featured Projects

Wind Forecast Improvement Project

In partnership with NOAA, the DOE Wind Program is leading a Wind Forecast Improvement Project (WFIP) that uses targeted wind observations and advanced forecast models and algorithms to help manage the contribution of wind energy to electricity grids. The first phase of the project, WFIP 1, examined the impact of improved initial conditions in advanced forecast models, which led to an 8% increase in accuracy. The second phase of the project, WFIP 2, is focusing on the atmospheric processes that impact wind forecasts in regions with complex terrain. Fieldwork for WFIP 2 began in fall 2015.

Offshore Resource Assessment and Design Conditions

The offshore energy industry requires accurate meteorological and oceanographic information to evaluate the energy potential, economic viability, and engineering requirements of offshore energy project sites. The Wind Program is working to address these needs through data dissemination, instrumentation and observational improvements, and next-generation tool development. DOE's public meeting on resource assessment and design conditions was the first step in addressing these information gaps and helped to shape a path forward for future priorities.

As a subsequent step, the program funded AWS Truepower to develop a Web-based, searchable, national met-ocean wind energy resource and design conditions data inventory, the U.S. Met-Ocean Data Center for Offshore Renewable Energy (USMODCORE). The data inventory incorporates resources from federal agencies, state governments, regional alliances, research institutions, commercial projects, and international organizations.

Additionally, the Energy Department’s WindSentinel wind resource characterization buoys will provide long-term offshore wind profile data that will support research needed to accelerate the utilization of offshore wind energy in the United States. December 2015 marks the one-year anniversary of deploying a buoy off the coast of Virginia Beach, Virginia in support of Dominion Virginia Power’s Advanced Technology Demonstration Project. This year-long data set contains atmospheric, wind speed, wind direction, and wave measurements that play an important role in both wind farm design and in securing project financing. The second buoy deployed off the coast of Atlantic City, New Jersey, in November 2015.

Atmosphere to Electrons Initiative

Wind farm underperformance, currently as high as 20% in some cases, presents a large opportunity for the Wind Program to increase the performance of wind farms and reduce the cost of wind power. DOE's Atmosphere to Electrons (A2e) research initiative is focused on improving the performance and reliability of wind plants by establishing an unprecedented understanding of how the Earth’s atmosphere interacts with the wind plants and developing innovative technologies to maximize energy extraction from the wind. 

The A2e initiative pursues an integrated research portfolio to coordinate and optimize advancements in four main research areas:

  1. Plant performance and financial risk assessment
  2. Atmospheric science
  3. Wind plant aerodynamics
  4. Next-generation wind plant technology.

The goal of A2e is to ensure future plants are sited, built, and operated in a way that produces the most cost-effective electrons—in the form of usable electric power—from the winds that pass through the plant. Learn more about the A2e initiative

Federal Partnerships

The Energy Department's Wind Program works with other government agencies, universities and industry members to assess and characterize U.S. wind resources. Assessment results are then made publicly available, enabling the wind industry to identify areas best suited for the development of future land-based and offshore wind farms.

Weather-Dependent and Oceanic Renewable Energy Resource Characterization

In Fiscal Year 2011, the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for Weather-Dependent and Oceanic Renewable Energy Resource Characterization to enhance the accuracy, precision, and completeness of resource information for wind and water energy technologies. In combining the technical expertise of the Energy Department with NOAA's advanced capabilities in the prediction, mapping, and forecasting of oceanic and atmospheric conditions, the two agencies work to develop the safe and efficient use of weather-dependent and oceanic renewable energy technologies.

Coordinated Deployment of Offshore Wind and Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf

In 2010, the Energy Department's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy signed an MOU with the Interior Department's Bureau of Ocean Energy Management for the Coordinated Deployment of Offshore Wind and Marine and Hydrokinetic Energy on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf. The MOU established working groups of agency staff to work together on addressing specific topic areas necessary for the deployment of offshore energy systems. The Resource Assessment and Design Conditions Working Group coordinates research activities to increase our understanding of core atmospheric and oceanic conditions relevant to offshore renewable energy.

Involved federal partners: U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, National Science Foundation, and Executive Office of the President

Resource Assessment and Characterization News

  • September 9, 2016

    A new report evaluating the potential for offshore wind energy development across U.S. coasts found that even if only 1% of the technical resource potential is recovered, nearly 6.5 million homes could be powered by offshore wind energy.

  • May 11, 2016
    Balancing the power grid is an art—or at least a scientific study in chaos—and the Energy Department is hoping wind energy can take a greater role in the act. Yet, the intermittency of wind—sometimes it’s blowing, sometimes it’s not—makes adding it smoothly to the nation’s electrical grid a challenge. If wind energy were to become more predictable, use of this clean, renewable power source stands to increase. 
  • April 11, 2016
    Deep in the heart of the Columbia River Gorge in Washington and Oregon, an extensive data collection effort is underway. It’s all part of the Wind Forecasting Improvement Project in Complex Terrain’s (WFIP 2) effort to improve wind forecasts. From October 2015 through mid-2017, scientists will collect and analyze meteorological data in order to improve wind forecasts in regions of complex terrain, such as mountains, valleys, and river gorges. Our aim is to generate better forecasts that will help make wind power more reliable, efficient, and easier to integrate into the power grid.
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