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Clean Power DOE taller wind turbines map

Published on February 3rd, 2014 | by Tina Casey

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What Does $2M Buy? How About 1800 GW Of Wind Power



A new $2 million funding program from the Department of Energy is expected to add – yes, add – yet another 1,800 gigawatts of wind power to the already formidable wind resources of the US. That’s something to keep in mind as the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline review process heats up.

The idea behind the new taller wind turbine program is to give the US wind industry an assist in developing taller wind turbines, with hub heights ranging from 120 meters up to 140 meters.

That’s a big step up from existing technology, which currently goes to the 80-100 meter range, with the average at about 90 meters.  As for why a taller wind tower, upper level winds tend to be stronger and steadier.

DOE taller wind turbines map

Taller wind turbine area courtesy of US DOE.

$2 Million For Taller Wind Turbines And More Green Jobs

With taller wind turbines, the new program is also expected to open up an additional 237,000 square miles of wind-friendly areas for wind power potential, which is about the size of Texas (the image above compares the area change in square kilometers between the hub height of 96 and that of 140).

The areas of the US most likely to benefit from the improved wind technology are mainly located in the Southeast, where alternative energy is starting to find a friendly reception despite pushback by certain legislators from those states.

Aside from increasing US wind generating potential, the new initiative dovetails with DOE’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative, which launched last March. That program aims to grow more cost-effective US sourcing for clean energy components.

To get a grasp of the potential for US green jobs growth just in the wind turbine manufacturing sector, take a look at this recent rundown from the American Wind Energy Association:

In 2012 alone, the U.S. wind industry installed over 6,700 turbines. To install that number of turbines, the U.S. industry required 20,100 blades and the same number of tower sections, approximately 3.2 million bolts, 36,000 miles of rebar, and 1.7 million cubic yards of concrete (enough for more than 7,630 miles of 4 foot-wide sidewalk). There are over 8,000 components in each turbine assembly.

Wind Power Vs. Keystone XL Pipeline

Now, about that Keystone XL Pipeline review process. The long-awaited State Department environmental report was finally released last Friday afternoon, just before Super Bowl weekend, but that still left pipeline advocates enough time to cheer at least one conclusion, which was that the project would not add significantly to global greenhouse gas emissions.

The cheering must have gotten pretty loud over the weekend, because by Sunday afternoon our friends over at The Hill were reporting an email from the White House, clarifying that the review process was far from over:

The Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) includes a range of estimates of the project’s climate impacts, and that information will now need to be closely evaluated by Secretary Kerry and other relevant agency heads in the weeks ahead…A decision on whether the project is in the national interest will be made only after careful consideration of the SEIS and other pertinent information, comments from the public, and views of other agency heads.

For one thing, the report also indicated spill risk issues that will need to be addressed.


As for some of those other relevant agencies, that includes not only EPA and DOE but also the Commerce Department, which is why we’re bringing this up in the first place.

Look at all the potential for long term job creation in the US wind industry, which involves manufacturing, installation, maintenance, and eventually decommissioning and recycling. Now stack that up against the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is expected to add a few dozen permanent jobs along its route.

To open a whole ‘nother can of worms, look at the benefit in terms of added US electricity generating capacity. Hardly a fair fight, but in terms of basic energy infrastructure on the one hand you have a vast reserve of clean energy generating potential to be tapped, and on the other you have a pipeline that will draw energy from the US grid in order to function, rather than adding to it.

The Nebraska Public Power District already has plans in the works for new transmissions lines to serve pumping stations required by the new pipeline. While the utility is bringing more clean energy on board, including wind power, it is still heavily reliant on coal-fired power plants.

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About the Author

Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.



  • TCFlood

    I like this website and would like it to achieve ever larger readership.

    That’s why overblown headlines and stories of this type anger me. The headline on this story is ridiculous and only serves to weaken the sites credibility.

  • Wayne Williamson

    Maybe now, we will finally get some wind turbines in Florida…..

  • Peebles Squire

    As the article mentions, this is good news for the Southeast, where taller towers will be able to more readily catch the more constant breeze found at higher altitudes.

    And some southern states are already making moves to bring clean, renewable energy onto their grids. Georgia and Alabama are already buying wind resources from nearby states and are realizing the costs savings: “Specifically, the delivered price of energy from the wind facility is expected to be lower than the cost the Company would incur to produce that energy from its own resource (i.e. below the Company’s avoided costs), with the resulting energy savings flowing directly to the Company’s customers,” noted the Alabama Public Service Commission in its approval of Alabama Power’s purchase of wind power from Kansas’s Chisholm View facility.

    Continued innovation in wind power has helped lead to cost reductions of 43 percent since 2009. Wind energy continues to be increasingly affordable, and this clean, reliable resource stands to contribute greatly to the South’s effort to diversify its energy portfolio.

    Peebles Squire
    AWEA

  • JamesWimberley

    Much of the extra acreage must come from turbines in forests. Almost all forest trees top out at 40m, so the idea is basically an Iowa-type 100m mast sticking above the treetops.
    I second Justin Passing’s takedown of the absurd headline.

  • Will E

    it is 1.8 GW. but that is also a lot.

    • TinaCasey

      Gentlemen, thank you all for your comments. DOE says 1,800 GW so I am sticking with that figure until they change their minds (http://www.energy.gov/eere/articles/energy-department-announces-funding-access-higher-quality-wind-resources-and-lower). The article is pretty clear that DOE is talking about potentials and resources, not predicting what they think the wind industry will eventually be able to do with it.

      • joaquin

        So why did you imply the $ 2M buys 1.8 TW of wind power?

        nonsense–realize that’s about a tenth of a cent per watt

        • climatehawk1

          The 1,800 GW is correct. A rule of thumb is 10 MW per square mile for open terrain, so for 237,000 square miles one would get 2.3 million MW (2,300 GW). However, it’s also correct that DOE is talking about opening up potential areas for development, rather than purchasing the actual equipment. $2m is still an extraordinary bargain.

          • joaquin

            land for about a penny an acre–extraordinary bargain indeed

          • climatehawk1

            Ha, yeah. But $2m to develop technology that can access that much additional wind, and probably also reduce transmission construction costs somewhat, is still an excellent deal.

          • Justin Passing

            No one’s saying it’s not, at least not me. I’m just suggesting accuracy and clarity on what the money will actually do. If someone posted that $2 million would “buy” 1,800 GW of nuclear or coal power, you’d jump all over them.

      • climatehawk1

        I’m with you. Headline is attention-getting and not unusual for an article about R&D and potential, of whatever kind. Doesn’t really make much sense to interpret it as implying that $2M will pay for roughly $3.5 trillion worth of installed wind generating capacity.

      • Justin Passing

        The lead of the story now reads, “A new $2 million funding program from the Department of Energy is expected to add – yes, add – yet another 1,800 gigawatts of wind power…” Could you please cite the source or sources who are saying that all this potential will in fact be developed? “is expected to add — yes, add” is your wording. The word “potential” is not used.

        • climatehawk1

          You cut the quote off. The sentence continues “to the already formidable wind resources of the US.” That is intended to mean potentially developable wind.

          • Justin Passing

            That might be the intention, but the lead, headline and URL are unclear to the point of being misleading.

          • climatehawk1

            Thanks. I think you have said that, and I have said I disagree. Maybe we can stop now?

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’d say understandably misreadable.

            But the important part is that wind makes more progress and we move closer to a 100% renewable grid.

  • Justin Passing

    There’s something wrong with the numbers in this post. According to EIA, total US electric generating capacity, from all sources combined (coal, nuclear, wind, everything), was only about 1,063 GW in 2012. How could 1,800 GW of wind capacity possibly be added, let alone for only $2 million?

  • Joe

    When they say that 6,700 turbines were installed in 2012, what are the requirements to making that number. Hopefully they’re not including household wind turbines. Is there a size/Kwh cutoff?

    • climatehawk1

      Those would be utility-scale turbines–either 100 kW and above, or above 100 kW (not sure about the exact cutoff point, whether it’s 100 or 101).

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