The US could generate 20% of its energy from wind within 10 years, without requiring any additional land, according to Cornell University research published in Nature Scientific Reports.
“The US currently produces about 7% of its electricity from wind energy,” said Sara Pryor, professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences. “This research shows that a quadrupling of the installed capacity of wind turbines from 2014 levels will allow us to attain the goal of 20% of electricity from the wind, without requiring additional land, or negative impacts on systemwide efficiency or local climates.”
Called the “20% Wind Scenario,” the NREL report noted that generating 20% of US electricity from wind could eliminate approximately 825 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the electrical energy sector in 2030.
From 2016 to 2017, wind-generated electricity in the US grew by 12% to 254 terawatt-hours — then increased another 8.3% to 275 terawatt-hours in 2018, the researchers said.
In context, the US currently uses approximately 310 to 320 terawatt-hours of electricity each month — generated from coal, natural gas, nuclear and renewable energy power plants.
“Wind energy is already playing a key role in decarbonizing the global energy system,” Pryor said. “Wind turbines repay the lifetime carbon emissions associated with their deployment and fabrication in three to seven months of operation and provide nearly 30 years of virtually carbon-free electricity generation.”
In high-density arrays of large wind turbines, the researchers examined possible declines in systemwide efficiency associated with a phenomenon called “wind turbine wakes,” where the wind speed is slowed by the extraction of momentum by wind turbines. This wake is eroded by mixing with undisturbed air in the atmosphere but can reduce the wind speed that impinges on downstream wind turbines.
Pryor worked with Rebecca Barthelmie, professor in the Sibley School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and postdoctoral researcher Tristan Shepherd to develop scenarios for how wind energy can expand from current levels to one-fifth of the entire US electricity supply by 2030, as outlined by the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in 2008.
“The ‘theft’ of wind by upstream wind turbines reduces the overall power produced by the total ensemble of wind turbines and the enhanced mixing (turbulence) can alter local climate conditions close to wind turbines,” said Barthelmie.
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