The U.S. Could Get a Third of Its Electricity From Wind Power—and Save Billions of Gallons of Water
Could the United States get as much as 35 percent of its electricity from wind power within 35 years?
Absolutely, says the U.S. Department of Energy in a new report that details the benefits of replacing fossil fuel power plants with millions of wind turbines generating carbon-free electricity.
Like perhaps longer showers in drought-stricken regions.
Fossil fuel power plants consume huge amounts of water for cooling. If wind supplied a third of the nation’s electricity by 2050, it would save an estimated 260 billion gallons of water a year. That’s just what California currently uses in about a week, but the savings could have significant local impacts where water shortages are severe.
“Wind’s environmental benefits can address key societal challenges such as climate change, air quality and public health, and water scarcity,” the report states. “Wind deployment can provide U.S. jobs, U.S. manufacturing, and lease and tax revenues in local communities to strengthen and support a transition of the nation’s electricity sector toward a low-carbon economy.”
The drop in greenhouse gas emissions from ramping up wind energy would save $400 billion in climate change–related costs between 2013 and 2050, the Energy Department estimated. Tearing down smokestacks and putting up turbine towers would cut air pollution–related health costs by $108 billion during the same period.
(Map: Courtesy Energy.gov)
And you’d save money on your utility bill, given that wind farms would generate electricity at lower cost than fossil fuel power plants.
Given that the U.S. generated just 4.5 percent from wind energy in 2013, is the rapid expansion envisioned by the Energy Department feasible? Yes, the report states, given the declining costs of wind power and mandates to increase renewable energy production. In 2000, for instance, the U.S. generated just 2.5 gigawatts of wind energy in four states. Thirteen years later, the country produced nearly 61 gigawatts in 34 states.
But getting 404 gigawatts in 48 states by 2050 will require a major expansion of offshore wind power from nothing today to 86 gigawatts in 35 years. The Energy Department is also counting on technology developments that will make wind energy competitive in low-wind Southeastern states.
The report, though, cautions that if natural gas prices stay low and electricity demand remains flat because of energy efficiency measures, orders for new wind farms could fall.
So, Why Should You Care? The expansion of wind energy could slow global warming and save billions of dollars in health costs and billions of gallons of water.