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U.S. wind capacity has more than tripled: report

Wind capacity in the United States has tripled and is enough to meet U.S. electricity consumption, according to a new report co-authored by the Department of Energy.

President Obama has promoted renewable energy sources such as wind as well as nuclear power plants as ways to generate carbon-free energy.

The country’s wind could generate 37 million gigawatt-hours of electricity a year, says the analysis by the Department’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and consulting firm AWS Truewind. The last comprehensive estimate in 1993 was 10.8 million gigawatt-hours, according to a story by Wired Science.

These numbers are far greater than the 3 million gigawatt-hours of electricity consumed annually in the United States and the 52,000 gigawatt-hours that wind turbines provided in 2008, the story says.

“Although much of this potential comes from the windy central regions of the United States, many eastern and western states have substantial wind potential, and 35 states have 1,000 megawatts (MW) or greater potential,” Dennis Elliott, NREL’s principal scientist in wind resource assessment, says in an announcement.

Texas has the most potential, followed by Kansas, Montana, Nebraska and South Dakota. A state-by-state list can be found here.

Researchers say the leap in wind potential is due largely to tehnological advances. Wind turbines are now more powerful and taller (often 250 feet or 80 meters) than ones used to calculate previous estimates.

Their maps, which show wind speed at a 250-feet or 80-meter height, help wind-farm developers find promising sites for turbines.

Wired Science reports that these accurate maps are a huge step forward in wind science. It says even low-resolution regional maps did not exist until the early 1980s and the first national map was only published by NREL in 1986. It says the real boom in wind data came with the availability of cheap computational power in the late 1990s.