Wind Vision:

A New Era for Wind Power in the United States

The Wind Vision report updates the Department of Energy's 2008 20% Wind Energy by 2030 through analysis of scenarios of wind power supplying 10% of national end-use electricity demand by 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050.

With about 6% of the nation's electricity supplied by wind energy today, the Department of Energy has collaborated with industry, environmental organizations, academic institutions, and national laboratories to develop a renewed Wind Vision documenting the contributions of wind to date and envisioning a future in which wind continues to provide key contributions to the nation's energy portfolio. Building on and updating the 2008 20% Wind Energy by 2030 report, the Wind Vision report quantifies the economic, environmental, and social benefits of a robust wind energy future and the actions that wind stakeholders can take to make it a reality.

Learn more about the U.S. Department of Energy Wind Energy Technologies Office.

Chapter 1: Introduction to the Wind Vision

Wind power is one of the fastest-growing sources of new electricity supply and the largest source of new renewable power generation added in the United States since 2000. At the same time, low natural gas prices, low wholesale electricity prices, and reduced demand for electricity since 2008 are impacting investments for all new electric generation. In this context, the U.S. Department of Energy initiated the Wind Vision analysis. At its core, the Wind Vision is intended to inform a broad set of stakeholders—including the industry, policymakers, and the public—on the implications of continued U.S. wind deployment.

Project Perspective and Approach

The Wind Vision assesses future wind power growth using a Business-as-Usual framework and sensitivities on key variables such as wind power costs, fossil fuel prices, and electricity demand. This evaluation assists in identifying a credible scenario for further analysis of costs and benefits and in highlighting future actions that could support continued wind growth.

Analytical Framework of the Wind Vision
Wind Vision Study Scenario The Wind Vision Study Scenario applies a trajectory of 10% of the nation's end-use demand served by wind by 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050.
Baseline Scenario The Baseline Scenario applies a constraint of no additional wind capacity after 2013 (wind capacity fixed at 61 GW through 2050). This allowed the team to identify and quantify impacts for all future wind deployment.
Business-as-Usual Scenario The Business-as-Usual Scenario does not prescribe a wind future trajectory but instead models wind deployment under policy conditions current on Jan. 1, 2014.

Understanding the Future Potential for Wind Power

At the core of the Wind Vision is an assessment of costs, benefits, and impacts from wind deployment. This requires a future scenario, called the Wind Vision Study Scenario, and a Baseline Scenario. The Study Scenario is based on the Business-as-Usual Scenario and related sensitivity analyses, with bounds based on wind power cost reduction, high fossil fuel prices, or a combination of both.

Line graph showing wind energy (TWh/year) by year for six scenarios, all of which begin at approximately 100 TWh/year in 2010 and end at these levels in 2050: Baseline Scenario 250 TWh/year, Business-as-Usual Scenario 1,250 TWh/year, High Fossil Fuel Costs 1,600 TWh/year), Low Wind Costs 1,600 TWh/year, Study Scenario 1,600 TWh/year, Low Wind Costs and High Fossil Fuel Costs 2,000 TWh/year.

Wind Vision Study Scenario relative to the Business-as-Usual Scenario and sensitivities

Defining a Credible Scenario To Calculate Costs, Benefits, and Other Impacts

The Wind Vision Study Scenario was identified as a credible scenario that extends wind deployment trends, leverages the domestic wind industry manufacturing base, and complements the broader literature. The Study Scenario is represented by wind power penetration levels of 10% by 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050. Impacts from the Study Scenario are compared to a Baseline Scenario in which wind capacity is fixed at 2013 levels. This allowed the team to identify and quantify impacts for all future wind deployment.

Figure of wind penetration as a percentage of U.S. electricity demand by year. Land-based wind begins at approximately 4% in 2010 and ends at approximately 27% in 2050. The combination of land-based and offshore wind begins at approximately 4% in 2010 and ends at 35% in 2050.

The Wind Vision Study Scenario and Baseline Scenario

Chapter 2: Wind Power in the United States

Wind power is a mainstream power source in the U.S. electricity portfolio, supplying 6% of U.S. electricity demand. Since 2008, the wind industry has scaled its domestic manufacturing capacity and driven down wind power costs by more than one-third. With more than 82 GW installed across 41 states, utility-scale wind power is a cost-effective source of power generation.

Wind Power Markets and Economics

In the U.S., new investments in wind plants averaged $13 billion/year between 2008 and 2013. The import share of selected large wind equipment declined from 80% in 2006–2007 to 30% in 2012–2013, and the levelized cost of energy from wind in good to excellent resource sites declined by more than one-third from 2008 to 2013. Low natural gas market prices and their impacts on wholesale electricity prices, along with low energy growth since 2008 and a lack of stability in federal policy (such as the production tax credit), have influenced wind power deployment.

Graphic of annual wind capacity additions and cumulative capacity (in GW) by year between 1997 and 2013. Cumulative capacity shows a relatively steady increase over time, but annual wind capacity additions show growth and decline in response to production tax credit expirations and extensions.

Historical wind deployment variability and the production tax credit

National Social and Economic Impacts of Wind

New investments in wind can support domestic employment in an array of fields, including construction, engineering, transportation, manufacturing, and operations and maintenance. These new investments may also spur increased local economic activity as construction increases demand for retail goods and services in project host communities and long-term operations support new revenues in the form of land lease and property tax payments. Nationally, wind deployment delivers public health and environmental benefits, including reduced greenhouse gas emissions, reduced air pollutants, and reduced water consumption and withdrawals.

Graphic of emissions and water savings that shows: carbon dioxide reduced by 115,000,000 metric tonnes, which is equivalent to carbon dioxide emissions from 270 million barrels of oil; sulfur dioxide reduced by 157,000 metric tonnes, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 12 uncontrolled coal plants; nitrous oxide reduced by 97,000 metric tonnes, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 10 uncontrolled coal plants; and water consumptions reduced by 36.5 billion gallons, which is equivalent to 116 gallons per person in the U.S.

Estimated emissions and water savings resulting from wind generation in 2013

Wind Technology, Manufacturing, and Logistics

Continued advancements and scale-up of turbine technology have helped reduce wind power costs and enable broader geographic deployment of wind power. Technology advancements now center on complementing larger wind turbines with enhanced siting strategies and advanced control systems for arrays of turbines. Provided domestic demand remains stable, domestic manufacturing could continue to expand.

Graph of the levelized cost of energy (in 2013 dollars per megawatt-hour), and hub height (in meters) over time. The levelized cost of energy shows a downward trajectory, beginning at almost $420/MWh in 1980–1990 and ending at about $50/MWh at present. Hub height grows from 17 m in 1980–1990 to 100 m today to 150 m in the future.

Wind technology scale-up trends and the levelized cost of electricity

Wind Deployment: Siting, Regulation, and Collaboration

From 2008 to 2013, wind power installations expanded in geographic deployment and cumulative capacity. Wind power contributed 4.5% of U.S. electricity demand in 2013 and operated in 39 states. To encourage future growth, collaborative groups are addressing issues from permitting and environmental oversight to manufacturing and workforce training. The wind power community has addressed substantive siting and regulatory issues and continues to work to streamline regulatory processes.

Map of total capacity and deployment in each of 39 U.S. states through 2008 and from 2009 to 2013. The top five states by total capacity are Texas (12.3 GW), California (5.8 GW), Iowa (5.2 GW), Illinois (3.6 GW), and Oregon (3.2 GW).

Utility-scale wind deployment through 2013

Chapter 3: Impacts of the Wind Vision

The Wind Vision shows that, although electricity rates increase by 1% between 2020 and 2030, the Central Study Scenario results in a net savings of $149 billion relative to the Baseline Scenario for the period of 2013–2050. Savings are incurred from 2031 to 2050 as fossil fuel prices trend upward and aging power infrastructure requires replacement. Increasing wind generation to the levels of the Study Scenario simultaneously reduces carbon dioxide emissions, improves air quality resulting in lower levels of illness and premature loss of life, and reduces demand on water resources.

Wind Industry and Electric Sector Impacts

In the Central Study Scenario, total installed wind capacity increases from 61 GW at year-end 2013 to 113 GW by 2020, 224 GW by 2030, and 404 GW by 2050. The Study Scenario supports new capacity additions at levels comparable to the recent past but drives increased demand for new wind turbine equipment as a function of repowering needs. The Study Scenario suggests continued geographical diversity in wind power deployment.

Table graphic that shows summary bullet points for each of the following five topics. Industry Investment: 8–11 GW/year average net capacity additions throughout the 2013–2050 period; 18 GW/year annual turbine demand as more wind plants are repowered from 2013 to 2050; and $70 billion/year by 2050 annual wind industry investment from new capacity additions, repowered capacity, and O&M. Deployment: 404 GW of cumulative capacity by 2015 for 35% wind energy; all 50 states with wind deployment by 2050; and 37 states by 2030 and 40 by 2050 with more than 1 GW of wind power (within the contiguous United States). Integration: Increased system flexibility is required but can be acquired from many sources; 2–3% average curtailment of annual wind generation, estimated wind capacity value of 10–15% by 2050; and integration solutions required but will vary be region. Transmission: 2.7x incremental transmission needs by 2030, 4.2x by 2050; 10 million MW-miles incremental transmission capacity required by 2030, cumulatively 29 million incremental MW-miles required by 2050; and through 2020 incremental 350 circuit miles/year needed, 2021–2030 incremental 890 circuit miles/year, and 2031–2050 incremental 1,050 circuit miles/year.

Summary of wind industry and other electric sector impacts in the Central Study Scenario

Costs of the Wind Vision Study Scenario

Relative to the Baseline Scenario, the Central Study Scenario results in an approximately 1% increase in retail electricity rates in the near-term (2020) to mid-term (2030) but cost savings by 2050. On a cumulative net present value basis, the long-term system cost reductions outweigh near- and mid-term cost increases across most conditions. On an annual basis, impacts on consumers are estimated to include costs of $2.3 billion compared to the Baseline Scenario in 2020, costs of $1.5 billion in 2030, and savings of $13.7 billion in 2050.

Change in Electricity Prices for the Study Scenario Relative to the Baseline Scenario

  2020 2030 2050
Central Study Scenario electricity price

0.06 ¢/kWh cost (+0.6%)

0.03 ¢/kWh cost (+0.3%)

0.28 ¢/kWh savings (-2.2%)

Central Study Scenario annual electricity consumer costs

$2.3 billion costs

$1.5 billion costs

$13.7 billion savings

Study Scenario sensitivity range

+0.2% to + 0.9%

-2.4% to +3.2%

-5.1% to +4.8%

Study Scenario annual electricity consumer costs range

$0.8 to $3.6 billion costs

$12.3 billion savings to $14.6 billion costs

$31.5 billion savings to $26.9 billion costs

Benefits and Other Impacts

The Central Study Scenario results in a 16% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030 and 23% by 2050 from the electricity sector relative to the Baseline Scenario. Other air pollutants affecting public health also decrease, and water savings accrue in many regions. Other impacts include reduced sensitivity to future fossil fuel price volatility, support for a vibrant wind industry supply chain, and increased tax revenue and lease payments to local communities. In addition, the Study Scenario results in manageable but non-trivial impacts to land use, local wildlife populations, and host communities.

Chart of system costs, benefits, and additional impacts associated with the Study Scenario. System Costs: $149 billion (3%) lower cumulative electric sector expenditures. Benefits: (Column 1) GHG: 14% reduction in cumulative GHG emissions (12.3 gigatonnes CO2-equivalents), saving $400 billion in avoided global damages; (Column 2) Air Pollution: $108 billion savings in avoided mortality, morbidity, and economic damages from cumulative reductions in emissions of SO2, NOX, and PM;
                                    21,700 premature deaths from air pollution avoided; and (Column 3) Water: 23% less water consumption and 15% less water withdrawals for the electric power sector. Additional Impacts: (Column 1) Energy Diversity: Increased wind power adds fuel diversity, making the overall electric sector 20% less sensitive to changes in fossil fuel costs. The predictable, long-term costs of wind power create downward price pressure on fossil fuels that can cumulatively save consumers $280 billion from lower natural gas prices outside the electric sector. (Column 2) Jobs: Approximately 600,000 wind related gross jobs spread across the nation. (Column 3) Local Revenues: $1 billion in annual land lease payments. $440 million annual lease payments for offshore wind plants. More than $3 billion in annual property tax payments. (Column 4) Land Use: Less than 1.5% (106,000 km2) of contiguous land area of the U.S. occupied by wind power plants. Less than 0.04% (3,300 km2) of contiguous U.S. land area impacted by turbine pads, roads, and other associated infrastructure. (Column 5) Public Acceptance and Wildlife: Careful siting, continued research, thoughtful public engagement, and an emphasis on optimizing coexistence can support continued responsible deployment that minimizes or eliminates negative impacts to wildlife and local communities.

Summary of costs, benefits, and other outcomes associated with the Study Scenario relative to the Baseline Scenario by 2050

Chapter 4: The Wind Vision Roadmap

The Wind Vision includes a detailed roadmap of technical and institutional actions necessary to overcome the challenges to wind power making a significant contribution to a cleaner, low-carbon, domestic energy economy. Optimizing wind contributions requires coordination among parties that can implement a set of complementary approaches around three themes. The list of detailed roadmap actions, which was published as Appendix M of the Wind Vision in 2015, was updated in 2017.

Reduce Wind Costs

The Wind Vision indicates that the costs associated with the Study Scenario can be reduced with wind cost reductions. Accordingly, reductions in the levelized cost of energy are a priority focus. This theme includes actions to reduce capital costs; reduce annual operating expenses; optimize annual energy production and reduce curtailment and system losses; reduce financing expenses; reduce grid integration and operating expenses; and reduce market barrier costs.

Issues Addressed Continuing declines in wind power costs and improved reliability are needed to improve market competition with other electricity sources.
Wind Vision Study Scenario Linkages Levelized cost of electricity reduction trajectory of 24% by 2020, 33% by 2030, and 37% by 2050 for land-based wind power technology and 22% by 2020, 43% by 2030, and 51% by 2050 for offshore wind power technology to substantially reduce or eliminate the near- and mid-term incremental costs of the Study Scenario.
Roadmap Action Areas
  • Wind Power Resources and Site Characterization
  • Wind Plant Technology Advancement
  • Supply Chain, Manufacturing, and Logistics
  • Wind Power Performance, Reliability, and Safety
  • Wind Electricity Delivery and Integration
  • Wind Siting and Permitting
  • Collaboration, Education, and Outreach
  • Workforce Development
  • Policy Analysis

Expand Developable Areas

Expansion of wind power into high-quality resource areas is important for realizing the Study Scenario at cost levels described in Wind Vision. Key activities in this theme include actions to expand transmission; responsibly expand developable geographic regions and sites; improve the potential of low-wind-speed locales; improve the potential of ocean and Great Lakes offshore regions; improve the potential in areas requiring careful consideration of wildlife, aviation, telecommunication, or other environmental issues; and improve the potential of high wind resource locations that have poor access to electricity transmission infrastructure.

Issues Addressed Continued reduction of deployment barriers as well as enhanced mitigation strategies to responsibly improve market access to remote, low-wind-speed, offshore, and environmentally sensitive locations.
Wind Vision Study Scenario Linkages Wind deployment sufficient to enable national wind electricity generation shares of 10% by 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050.
Roadmap Action Areas
  • Wind Power Resources and Site Characterization
  • Wind Plant Technology Advancement
  • Supply Chain, Manufacturing, and Logistics
  • Wind Electricity Delivery and Integration
  • Wind Siting and Permitting
  • Collaboration, Education, and Outreach
  • Policy Analysis

Increase Economic Value for the Nation

The Wind Vision Study Scenario projects substantial benefits for the nation, but additional steps are needed to ensure these benefits are realized and maximized. This theme includes actions to provide detailed and accurate data on costs and benefits for decision makers, grow and maintain U.S. manufacturing throughout the supply chain, train and hire a U.S. workforce, provide diversity in the electricity generating portfolio, and provide a hedge against fossil fuel price increases. The overall aim is to ensure that wind power continues to provide enduring value for the nation.

Issues Addressed Capture the enduring value of wind power by analyzing job growth opportunities, evaluating existing and proposed policies, and disseminating credible information.
Wind Vision Study Scenario Linkages A sustainable and competitive regional and local wind industry supporting substantial domestic employment. Public benefits from reduced emissions and consumer energy cost savings.
Roadmap Action Areas
  • Supply Chain, Manufacturing, and Logistics
  • Collaboration, Education, and Outreach
  • Workforce Development
  • Policy Analysis