If you’ve ever driven past an onshore wind farm (and it’s increasingly likely–as of 2022, there are 70,800 wind turbines in the U.S. Wind Turbine Database), you might have wondered about wind energy’s cost, power, and prevalence.
Wind is one of the cleanest, most common, and cheapest forms of renewable energy, and has taken the world by storm in recent years (pun intended). Below is everything you need to know about wind energy in the modern day, from which countries use it most to its costliness to whether onshore or offshore wind power is more effective.
- Wind is one of the cheapest and most abundant forms of renewable energy and has grown considerably in recent years. It’s available in over 100 countries, with China producing the most wind energy by far.
- Offshore wind energy (derived from the high seas) is considerably more powerful than onshore wind energy (farmed on land), but offshore energy requires newer, rarer technology and is more expensive to produce.
- Wind power, along with solar power, is one of the most common and cheapest forms of renewable energy to generate.
General Wind Energy Statistics
- Wind is one of the most readily available natural resources for renewable energy, and its production has taken off in recent years (with a 17% increase in 2021 alone, up 55% from the previous year).
- The leading non-hydro renewable technology, the amount of power generated by wind power annually is nearly equal to that of all other non-hydro forms of renewable technology combined (1,870 Terawatt-hours in 2021 alone).
- China remains the leader in wind generation capacity by far, responsible for about 70% of the global total (the U.S. is in second place with 14%, followed by Brazil with 7%).
- The number of countries participating in wind power generation grew from 16 to 100 between 1990 and 2010, and is still growing (128, including Puerto Rico, as of 2021).
- The U.S. wind industry employs U.S. veterans at a rate 80% above the national average.
- Wind must reach about six to nine miles per hour in order to begin to power a wind turbine (this is known as the “cut-in speed.”
- Over the past decade, the cost of wind has decreased by 47%.
- A typical wind turbine will pay off the carbon footprint required to create it within less than six months, and will continue to generate clean energy for the rest of its 20-30 year lifespan.
- Denmark is the country that gets the most of its power from wind globally–about 43.8% (16.08 TWh).
- The Danes were early pioneers in the wind power industry in the 1970s–wind was seen as a viable alternative to nuclear power and was cheaper than oil amidst the 1973 oil embargo.
- Using renewable energy helped Denmark battle climate change amidst growing concern in the 1980s, when the country had a relatively high carbon footprint per capita.
- Wind power also enabled Denmark to decrease its dependence on other countries for energy.
- Onshore wind is also the cheapest source of electricity for Denmark.
- Wind power has the potential to provide 20% of electricity in the U.S. by 2030 and 35% by 2050, according to a study conducted in 2015.
- The average hub height for commercial wind turbines is 90 meters. Wind speeds at these higher altitudes are faster and therefore generate more power, whereas wind speeds closer to the Earth’s surface are slower.
- Wind power is proportional to the cube of wind speed.
- The average wind turbine size in the U.S. has grown in recent years, from 2.55 MW in 2019 to 2.8 MW in 2020.
Global Wind Energy Statistics
Below is a breakdown of each of the leading nations in wind power capacity and wind-based electricity production, and their annual contributions by Terawatt-hour (TWh).
- China – 650.56 TWh
- The United States – 379.77 TWh
- France – 36.66 TWh
- Germany – 115.79 TWh
- The United Kingdom – 64.37 TWh
- Brazil – 72.24 TWh
- India -68.08 TWh
- Japan – 9.9 TWh
- Turkey – 31.21 TWh
Offshore wind refers to wind harnessed from the high seas through offshore wind turbines. Without land barriers, offshore wind can reach much higher speeds, meaning fewer wind turbines can create more energy compared to onshore (3.6 megawatts per turbine, as opposed to 2.5-3 megawatts).
- Due to its higher cost and newer technology, offshore wind farms are only present in 19 countries, and comprise just 7% of the global total wind power.
- In 2021, the offshore wind pipeline in the U.S. grew 13.5%, with 40,083 megawatts worth of offshore wind power capacity now in development.
- In 2021, the cost for commercial-scale offshore wind projects decreased by 13% to just $84 per megawatt-hour on average ($61/MWh at the lowest; $116/MWh at the highest).
- By 2026, U.S. developers hope to bring 11,000 megawatt-hours of offshore wind online via 13 different projects currently in development.
- If the U.S. reaches 30 gigawatts of offshore wind capacity by 2030, 83,000 American jobs will be created.
- As of 2020, there were 117,000 full-time workers in the U.S. wind industry. 500 different facilities across the U.S. manufacture wind turbines and their components.
- China is the global leader in offshore wind, having surpassed the United Kingdom in 2021 (accounting for 49% of the world’s capacity).
Onshore wind refers to wind harnessed from land-based wind turbines and systems on land, as opposed to out at sea. Due to land barriers, onshore wind is less powerful and unable to reach the high speeds that offshore wind can. However, onshore wind is a much more accessible and developed technology.
- Available in 115 countries, onshore wind farms contribute 93% of the world’s wind power.
- American onshore wind capacity is forecasted to grow from 74 gigawatts in 2021 to 109 gigawatts in 2027.
- Only a small number of countries (including Germany, China, and Spain) have consistently made improvements in all three areas correlated with climbing in onshore wind capacity: stable policy frameworks implying long-term revenue certainty, policies that address permitting challenges, and imminent plans for grid expansion.
Wind Compared to Other Energy Sources
Wind is an incredibly clean, virtually emissions-free source of energy. Wind turbines have fewer effects on the environment compared to other energy sources, do not pollute the air (with rare exceptions like catching fire or leaking lubricating fluids), and do not require water for cooling.
- Together with other forms of clean energy (i.e. solar, geothermal, biomass, hydroelectric), wind contributes to 12% of the U.S.’s annual energy consumption. (Non-renewable energy sources like petroleum and natural gas still comprise the majority of the U.S.’s power.)
- Compared to other renewable energy sources, wind is the largest contributor to electricity generation in the U.S., generating 10.3% of the country’s electricity annually.
- A wind turbine’s theoretical maximum efficiency rate (also known as the Betz Limit) is around 59%. Most wind turbines make use of about 50% of the wind that passes through them.
- A wind turbine’s average “capacity factor” (average power output divided by maximum efficiency rate) for onshore wind in the U.S. ranges from 24% to 56% (with an average of 36%).
- Average capacity factor has grown in recent decades, from 25% for wind turbines installed between 1998-2001 to 41% for the most recent projects (2014-2019).
- In 2020 alone, wind power capacity helped the U.S. avoid 319 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.
- According to a 2015 study, if the U.S. could reach 35% wind-generated electricity by 2050, greenhouse gas emissions would decrease by 23% (eliminating 510 billion kg of CO2 emissions annually).
- This would mean a 12.3 trillion kg cumulative drop from 2013, and a 15% decrease in the U.S.’s water use.
- Some worry about bird safety when it comes to wind turbines. However, the avian mortality rate from collisions with wind turbines is 0.2 million annually, compared to 130 million from collisions with power lines and 300-1,000 million from collisions with buildings.
- Noise from a nearby wind farm (about 350 m away) (about 35-45 decibels) is comparable to that of a quiet bedroom (35 dB) and quieter than a car traveling at 40 miles per hour 100 m away (about 55 dB).
Wind Energy Costs
As of 2021, the average modern wind turbine costs $1.3 million per megawatt to operate. Most wind turbines are 2-3 megawatts in power, meaning they’re worth $2-4 million each.
- This makes wind a competitive energy source in terms of cost–the average wind power plant can generate electricity for less than five cents per kilowatt-hour, a price that’s often cheaper compared to modern coal and natural gas-based power plants.
- Wind and solar energy remain the cheapest forms of renewable energy, with forms of energy like biomass and hydropower remaining slightly more expensive (but still often cheaper than energy derived from fossil fuels).
- The federal production tax credit (PTC) offers a 1-2 cents/kWh benefit for the first ten years of a wind farm’s operation (as long as its operation began before the end of 2021).
- Small installations (<100 kWh) may qualify for 22-26% of the capital and installation costs in tax credits (with the exact amount based on the construction start date).