Wind Power Capacity Expanding Rapidly in U.S.

This Energy Department map shows wind farms located across the United States.
This Energy Department map shows wind farms located across the United States.

Wind power is gaining a greater share of the U.S. energy market, according to a new assessment from the Department of Energy, making the United States one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing markets for this clean and renewable source of energy.

The U.S. energy industry added more than 13 gigawatts of new wind power capacity to the grid in 2011, pushing total U.S. wind power over 60 gigawatts by the end of 2012. (One gigawatt equals 1 billion watts.) That’s enough capacity to power more than 15 million homes, with the average U.S. home using 940 kilowatt-hours per month, according to the department.

The nation’s wind energy capacity has increased more than 22-fold since 2000, according to the 2012 Wind Technologies Market Report. The expansion has occurred largely through private-sector initiatives, but it is consistent with the Obama administration’s “all-of-the-above” energy strategy that promotes expansion of renewable energy sources to reduce harmful greenhouse gas emissions, diversify the energy economy and scale-up innovative technologies. The administration is committed to doubling renewable capacity again by 2020.

“As the fastest-growing source of power in the United States,” said Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, “wind is paving the way to a cleaner, more sustainable future that protects our air and water and provides affordable, clean renewable energy to more and more Americans.”

Wind power provides more than 4 percent of the U.S. electricity supply, the report finds, with higher levels of generation in states with the broad, flat terrain so conducive to wind power. In nine states, wind contributes more than 12 percent of electricity generation. In the Great Plains region of the nation, wind power supplies more than 20 percent of energy needs for the states of Iowa, Kansas and South Dakota.

Wind energy production is expanding to what are traditionally considered less windy areas due to improved technology. Wind turbine performance is steadily improving through technical and design innovation that allows use of longer, lighter blades and larger turbines. The average capacity of wind turbines has increased by 170 percent since the late 1990s.

Expanding wind power is also boosting U.S. manufacturing output and employing Americans. The report estimates 72 percent of wind turbine equipment installed in 2012 was manufactured in the United States, a notable growth rate for the domestic industry in the last five years.

Wind power is also a job creator, according to the report. This energy sector employs more than 80,000 workers, according to industry statistics, across the range of the manufacturing supply chain and including the engineers and construction workers who build new wind installations.