There are several significant challenges to be overcome before wind can become a major source in the United States. Generally, the most prolific areas for wind are located away from large cities which use electrical power (see Figure 1), and wind blows more at night than during the day which is when most electricity is needed (see Figure 2). The two keys to increasing supply are to build more transmission lines to get the power where it is needed, and to solve the technical issues around large scale storage of electricity so that it can be available when needed.
Two new report published by the US Department of Energy titled "Wind Vision: A New Era of Wind Power in the United States" and "Enabling Wind Power Nationwide" conclude that wind can become one of the nation's largest sources of electricity. The reports address a "Study Scenario" that included 10% of total US energy needs supplied by wind by 2020, 20% by 2030, and 35% by 2050. It concluded that such a scenario was possible and had multiple benefits that would far outweigh any additional cost to achieve such levels.
To achieve this outcome, however, the US would need to tackle three major areas:
- Technology improvements to further reduce wind power costs, allowing deployment in new geographic regions of the nation
- Transmission expansion to access high quality wind resources and enhance operation of the electric power system
- Energy market pricing that recognizes the value of low carbon, low emissions power sources.
In the short-term one significant enabler to increased wind power production in the United States, the wind Production Tax Credit (PTC), was extended by the US Congress in December 2015 for another 5 years, which should help maintain investment in new wind power and help continue to drive down costs.