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Published on December 19th, 2018 | by Michael Barnard


US Wind Energy Could Already Power A Third Of US Cars For A Year

December 19th, 2018 by  

The wind generation already in operation in 2017 would power 75 million US cars for a full year if they were electric. The US wind generation installed in 2018 alone will power about 2 million US electric cars for a year.

Let’s take 2017, as the full year’s generation of 254.2 TWh is known. That’s about 6.3% of total generation in the USA. It will be higher in 2018 of course, but we’ll return to that.

Let’s also take a Chevy Bolt, a slightly less efficient car for mileage than Teslas (although much more efficient than any gas or diesel car). It has a 60 kWh battery and an EPA-rated range of 238 miles, giving close enough to 4 miles per kWh that rounding up doesn’t make a difference, but let’s use 3.97 miles per kWh anyway.

And let’s use the USA’s annual driving figures of 13,476 miles per person, because they drive a lot further than anybody else in the world, mostly in vastly inefficient single-passenger internal combustion cars and light trucks.

So a million cars would drive 13,476,000,000 miles or about 13.5 trillion miles in a year. Simple math says that you divide the 13.5 trillion miles by 3.97 to get the kWh required for the distance. That gives us 3,394,000,000 kWh or about 3.4 TWh of electricity required for a million cars for a year.

A TWh is a billion kWh, turning the 254.2 TWh into 254,200,000,000 kWh. That’s enough electricity generated in 2017 by wind generation alone to power 75 million US cars driven the US average of 13,476 miles.

In 2018 in the first three quarters, a cumulative 1,644 MW of wind generation capacity was turned on. Assuming Q4 is slightly lighter than the first three quarters, let’s assume we’re adding 2,000 MW or 2 GW total wind generation capacity in 2018. Wind generation was running at 40% capacity factors for newly built wind farms 3–4 years ago, so let’s use those conservative numbers.

That would suggest that next year, the 2 GW of capacity installed in 2018 alone would generate about 7,008,000,000 kWh or 7 TWh and change. Simple math leads to the realization that the wind generation capacity installed in 2018 alone will power two million cars.

There are about 276.1 million cars in the USA in 2018. 77 million of them or about 28% could be fully powered by wind generation alone if they were electric and used full time. And that’s with wind generation being under 7% of total US electrical generation.

Mark Jacobson’s 100% by 2050 study gives 50% of total demand to be provided by wind generation, split 30.9% onshore, and 19.1% offshore. Ignoring improved offshore capacity factors, and scaling from the 2017 6.3% for 75 million cars, that suggests wind generation in 2050 would be sufficient to power about 600 million cars, more than twice the total cars in the USA today. 

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About the Author

is Chief Strategist with TFIE Strategy Inc. He works with startups, existing businesses and investors to identify opportunities for significant bottom line growth and cost takeout in our rapidly transforming world. He is editor of The Future is Electric, a Medium publication. He regularly publishes analyses of low-carbon technology and policy in sites including Newsweek, Slate, Forbes, Huffington Post, Quartz, CleanTechnica and RenewEconomy, and his work is regularly included in textbooks. Third-party articles on his analyses and interviews have been published in dozens of news sites globally and have reached #1 on Reddit Science. Much of his work originates on Quora.com, where Mike has been a Top Writer annually since 2012. He's available for consulting engagements, speaking engagements and Board positions.

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