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Resource Maps for Taller Towers Reveal New Areas for Wind Project Development

A picture of a tall wind turbine with blue sky and snowcapped mountains in the background. .

Taller turbine towers are changing the wind energy landscape in the United States. Taller towers provide access to higher wind speeds, allowing this clean energy technology to be utilized in areas that were previously considered undevelopable due to insufficient wind resources.

To assess taller towers and their potential impact, researchers at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in conjunction with AWS Truepower, developed a series of wind resource maps that reflect the increase in potential using 2014 turbine technology on tower heights of 110 meters and 140 meters. The potential wind capacity maps highlight land area with a gross capacity factor of 35% (equivalent to a net capacity factor of 30%) and higher, which may be suitable for wind energy development. The deployment of 2014 technology at a height of 110 meters will expand U.S. land area available for wind deployment to 3.4 million square kilometers. At heights of 140 meters, this number increases to 3.9 million square kilometers.

The geographic distribution for this expanded U.S. land area available for wind deployment is nationwide and demonstrates many additional development opportunities in regions such as the Northwest, Southwest, and especially the Southeast, an area that until 2015 had only one commercial wind energy development. Unlocking this resource in locations that previously showed limited to no potential will allow for in-state wind energy to contribute to implementation of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan throughout the country.

Data from this project have been utilized in multiple publications, including the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Wind Vision and Enabling Wind Power Nationwide reports. At the regional and state levels, the Southeastern Wind Coalition partnered with NREL to create custom maps and fact sheets that show viable areas for wind development based on past, present, and expected future turbine technologies.

With the potential of unlocking between more than 1,700 terawatt-hours (TWh) per year (at 110 m) and more than 6,000 TWh per year (at 140 m) in the Southeast alone, these maps represent the future of wind energy in currently undeveloped areas and the technological advancements that will be necessary for wind energy in the United States to reach 404 gigawatts by 2050, a long-term scenario presented in the Wind Vision report.

The industry trend of increasing blade lengths, which allows wind turbines to capture more of the energy available in the wind, is another advancement in future turbine technology necessary to further increase the potential areas for development. Because of these technology advances, wind energy can now be generated in all 50 states.

Additional Information

DOE's National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) at NREL is at the forefront of energy innovation. Learn more about the NWTC's wind energy research capabilities. To access other potential wind capacity maps, visit WINDExchange: Potential Capacity Maps.