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With utility-scale wind turbines installed in 39 states, wind energy accounts for 4.5 percent of our nation’s annual electricity generation. At this level, wind energy already supports more than 50,000 industry-related jobs in manufacturing, construction, operations and maintenance, and supporting services, all while improving the environment and strengthening our economy.
So, what could the United States energy picture look like in 2020, 2030, and 2050, and what is the role of wind? That’s the question the Energy Department and an elite team of researchers, academics, scientists, engineers and wind industry experts set out to answer over the past two years.
These experts revisited and built on the findings of the Energy Department’s 2008 20% Wind by 2030 report to envision a new future for wind energy through 2050. Taking into account every type of wind energy deployment (land-based, offshore, distributed), the new Wind Vision Report defines the societal, environmental and economic benefits of wind power in a scenario with wind energy supplying 10 percent of the country’s electricity in 2020, 20 percent in 2030 and 35 percent in 2050, established through rigorous analysis and deployment scenario sensitivities.
Key Findings of the Wind Vision Report
This comprehensive analysis has a number of key takeaways:
- As wind power becomes a larger part of the country’s energy mix and investments aim at cost reductions, the price of wind energy is projected to be directly competitive with conventional energy technologies within the next decade.
- Wind can be a viable source of renewable electricity in all 50 states by 2050.
- Wind has the potential to support more than 600,000 jobs in manufacturing, installation, maintenance and supporting services.
- By 2050, most wind turbine components could be manufactured in the United States.
- By 2050, wind energy can help offset 12.3 gigatonnes of greenhouse gases, equivalent to $400 billion in avoided carbon emissions at current global economic values.
- By 2050, wind energy can help offset 2.6 million metric tons of sulfur dioxide, 4.7 million metric tons of nitrogen oxides, and 0.5 million metric tons of fine particulate matter, equivalent to $108 billion in savings from avoided healthcare costs and economic damages.
- By 2050, wind energy can save 260 billion gallons of water that would have been used by the electric power sector, equivalent to roughly 400,000 Olympic-size swimming pools.
- With wind energy, the United States can save $280 billion in natural gas costs by 2050. Natural gas is currently used to help quickly supply power to the electrical grid during spikes in energy use, such as those caused by seasonal heating and cooling.
- Local governments will be able to collect additional tax revenue from land lease payments and property taxes, reaching $3.2 billion annually by 2050.
Enabling the Wind Vision
In order to quantify the impacts and benefits of wind energy through 2050, the Wind Vision Report models three different scenarios:
- The “Baseline Scenario” holds wind energy capacity constant, at the level of installed capacity at the end of 2013.
- The “Business-as-Usual Scenario” factors in variables such as electricity demand, fossil fuel prices, wind power and other renewable energy costs, as well as existing transmission expansion patterns. Under this scenario wind economically competes as part of the U.S. electricity generating fleet, and with federal and state policies as enacted as of January 1, 2014.
- The “Study Scenario,” derived through analytical modeling, defines wind contributions as 10% of national end-use electricity demand by 2020, 20% by 2030 and 35% by 2050 and all other electricity sources economically compete for generation, while federal and state policies are held as enacted as of January 1, 2014. The Study Scenario used current (as of 2013) and projected trend data to inform inputs, assumptions, and other constraints.
How Do We Get to 35% Wind by 2050?
While the Wind Vision Report does not make any policy recommendations, it does provide a Roadmap for Targeted Actions. The Wind Vision Roadmap sets forth actions the wind energy industry, research community and others can take to accelerate the deployment of wind energy nationwide. The nine core “action areas” focus on technology advancement, grid integration, workforce development and other topics and provide a comprehensive framework for future wind power deployment and further cost reductions.
Some of the key actions that would help achieve the Wind Vision Study Scenario include:
- Reducing wind power costs: Reducing the cost of wind energy will primarily be influenced by continued cost improvements and advancements in overarching wind energy technologies.
- Expanding the developable areas for wind power: This includes expanding wind power to new areas, such as the southeastern United States, as well as the installation of new transmission lines to high quality wind resource locations.
- Deploying wind in ways that increase its value for the nation: This includes the use of domestically manufactured components for all phases of wind project development and considering the impact of wind energy growth on surrounding communities, the environment, wildlife and the general public.
The Energy Department is proud to have worked with more than 100 companies and organizations such as the American Wind Energy Association, the Union of Concerned Scientists, Vestas American Wind Technology, General Electric Energy, Defenders of Wildlife, Renewable Energy Systems America, EDF Renewables, Arcadia Windpower, the University of Iowa, PJM Interconnection, the academic sector, and our National Laboratories to develop this vision for America’s wind energy future. As a viable source of renewable power that will help our country achieve energy independence, wind has the potential to push the boundaries of energy further than ever before.
Explore the Wind Vision Report in full at wind.energy.gov/vision.