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March 10, 2010

20% by 2030

By: Aaron Datesman

This map shows NREL projections for meeting 20% of the US electricity demand (projected forward) with installed wind power in the year 2030. The projection is derived taking into account both the wind resource, and reasonable predictions for electricity transmission and distribution. The map appears in this presentation, which is short, not too technical, and worth looking over.


I find this fascinating, but would like to make only two points.

1) I have been told (I heard this from an NREL scientist at the AWEA conference in 2006) that the offshore wind resource in the US is sufficient to meet the country’s electricity demand. I’m skeptical about this, because, well, it’s something I heard at an industry conference, but do note the offshore wind included on the map above. Despite my skepticism, the offshore resource in the US is undeniably huge. What’s more, this resource is located near most of the US population - so that offshore wind energy could actually be distributed to where the demand is.

2) Notice the minimal installed capacity in North Dakota (the “Saudi Arabia of Wind”). This reflects the distribution issue I’ve written about in earlier posts.

I don’t find 20% 20 years out from now a particularly worthwhile goal. I think we should “go down swinging”, think big and try to reach audacious goals. But it’s undeniably useful to look at what industry and DOE present in professional settings.

— Aaron Datesman

Posted at March 10, 2010 08:19 AM

I will try to spiff up the map. Do want to keep it looking classy around here.....

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at March 10, 2010 08:34 AM

Two comments:

For the kind of audacious goal you are talking about, I'd be interested in your comments on this presentation by engineer and McArthur Prize winner Saul Griffith. A bit "gee whiz" for my taste but he's talking about what needs to be achieved-a 100% renewable energy economy and what is required to bring this about:

Also, the NREL paper-if I read it correctly-assumes increasing demand through 2030 with no mention of conservation. As an indication of what could be achieved, I believe that California's electrical consumption has remained virtually flat for 30 years even with a big increase in energy intensive household appliances. This has a lot to do with the work of Art Rosenfeld at Lawrence Berkeley labs.

Maybe some (albeit small) basis for hope in all this-especially if we stop wasting trillions of dollars each year bombing wedding parties in Afghanistan.

Posted by: John Halle at March 10, 2010 10:56 AM

I agree with you about thinking big. But it is critical to understand that we have, and have had the tech for a long time. It is the political will we lack.

Regardless of exact numbers, everyone agrees that commercially developable wind resources in the U.S. exceed about many times projected U.S. consumption (even with high projections) through 2100. Commercially developable solar resources have many times the potential of wind. We have the ability to generate small amounts of geothermal and hydro for stabilization purposes. We have existing pumped storage and utility scale batteries for storage. Our climate could afford to use tiny bits of natural gas for backup.

Overall we could provide stable reliable renewable electricity to meet all our needs, not just all current electrical needs but to replace fossil fuels for most transport, most industrial use, even heating and cooling.

Now you could not, unsubsidized do that at the same market price as highly subsidized coal. I think retail for a 95%+ renewable grid would probably be about 20 cents per kWh. But we could squeeze a lot more economic benefit out of a unit of power than we do now. Insulation in homes, better pumps and motors in factories and so on. Electricity itself can help in that respect. Transport is 3 to ten times more efficient powered electrically than via fossil fuel. Ground source heat pumps use on third to one fifth of the energy of a fossil fuel climate control (if the source of the electricity is renewable). (Even a heat pump run by natural gas generated electricity uses slightly less natural gas than a natural gas furnace, but of course the real savings only occur if the electricity is renewable.) (And yes direct solar heating is great, but there are many existing buildings where the potential for this is non-existent or very limited.)

This is not just me. See the Jacobson and Deluchhi article in the latest scientific American. There have been a bunch of studies over the years that have demonstrated this. Some of the them think the price would be a lot lower than 20 cents per kWh. But even assuming that is the real price, getting off fossil fuels is well worth it. (Jacobson's scenario does use some hydrogen, but not to run cars, not to transport electricity, only for on-site storage.)

Posted by: Gar LIpow at March 10, 2010 01:22 PM

Not latest SciAm. November 2009 SciAm. Sorry.

Posted by: Gar Lipw at March 10, 2010 01:23 PM

@Gar - I like this, and I agree:

"Overall we could provide stable reliable renewable electricity to meet all our needs, not just all current electrical needs but to replace fossil fuels for most transport, most industrial use, even heating and cooling."

And so, it's interesting: how many people who would be receptive to this message know this? I think it's news to many or most. I often hear on the liberal/left that the best position is "to wait for the crash".

I hope these posts are valuable to people drawn to that opinion. Also, thanks much for the additional analysis you provide. Please do continue. -AD

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at March 10, 2010 02:16 PM

piping up to recommend if people are thinking of going down (or up) swinging, gar's material at or lester brown & co's at or likewise go through the big-fast-change in (kinda budgeted) detail.

electrifying freight transport is not a secret, but it's true that it's not part of the mainstream political (or energy sector) discussion AS YET.

Posted by: hapa at March 10, 2010 05:05 PM

Hi Aaron. Yeah, one of the recent I refer to my approach as "no hair shirt solutions" is that I feel like I'm swimming upstream - arguing against the deniers on the right, the Lovins swarm of natural capitalists in the center, and the joy-through-despair tendency on some of the left.

I post also post on this on grist. Back in July 2008 Jon Rynn and I posted a spreadsheet on the possiblity of a complete conversion, testing different assumptions from no technology improvements to modest technology improvements to major (put still plausible technology improvements). While technology change made significant differences in cost estimates, what turned out to determine cost most was how efficiently we used energy. A high efficiency scenario with zero technology improvement cost less than modest efficiency improvements with major technological breakthroughs. Of course doing both is best. But deploying the technology we have well is more important than developing new technology.

As I said right in the above article, the fact that there are is much low cost technology we can deploy does not mean markets will lead to us deploying it. At some point I will link to some of my key Grist posts on the politics and economics of solving the climate crisis. In the meantime, here is a general link to all my blog posts on Grist. You may find some of them of interest, though of course as with most bloggers post quality varies.

Posted by: Gar Lipow at March 10, 2010 06:51 PM

Here's what I like about pumping money into using wind energy: No one will ever invade North Dakota to seize the wind. There will never be a corrupt wind oligarchy. Diminishing wind supplies will never cause a world war.

So even if putting a trillion dollars into this is just a trillion dollars wasted, the waste probably won't come along with the parade of horrors that our present multi-trillion-dollar wastes all have.

For me, the rest is gravy.

Posted by: N E at March 10, 2010 09:19 PM
Here's what I like about pumping money into using wind energy:

i have bad news

No one will ever invade North Dakota to seize the wind.

people WILL fight over wires and transmission, and about various sabotage efforts

There will never be a corrupt wind oligarchy.

it's already here, oh ye of too much faith

Diminishing wind supplies will never cause a world war.

energy shortages are inherently destabilizing no matter if the core supply issue is domestic or foreign

Posted by: hapa at March 10, 2010 09:44 PM

I was just about to say that the states have to take the lead here -- and then I read this:

Is it just me, or did I just read about a huge amount of taxpayer money being spent on an economically conscious, ethical, and job-generating project? Did I miss something?

Posted by: No One of Consequence at March 10, 2010 11:57 PM

The one thing people forget is that conservation and renewable energy also drives down the price of fossil fuel by reducing demand for fossil fuel. It also reduces pollution and the health cost associated with pollution which might be where the largest savings is.

Posted by: peter john at March 11, 2010 12:39 AM

on a tangentially related note: any of you guys have opinions on this talk by Dan Barber?

i would like to know if such a practice is replicable at all...

Posted by: almostinfamous at March 11, 2010 01:07 AM


I'm sure people will "fight" over the infrastructure, but I think they'll be unlikely to have a real war over it. I must have been infected with optimism.

As for corruption, yes it's rampant, but the Gulf States under our direction and supervision have taken that to a whole new level. I just don't think our future wind oligarchy will have an easy time matching them.

I sure hope renewable energy sources are less destabilizing than oil has been, but I suppose you're right and we'll figure out a way to make some sort of wind-powered WMD. What was I thinking?

Posted by: N E at March 11, 2010 07:50 AM

grrrrr! windmill mine! sacred windmill! you touch, DIE!

Posted by: hapa at March 11, 2010 09:29 AM

America lacks the will to do anything it's not told to do by our holy commercial interests. It would rather pursue delusional manifest destiny, bombing unfamiliar human flesh to heaven, than make meager ramparts for the quality of life at home. It makes a few folks fabulously wealthy and impoverishes ourselves and our children (and their children), and we obviously love that. Make no mistake- the American concept of Free Enterprise, particularly in the energy game, is an extractive industry based on deceit and generational robbery.

By the same token, we'd rather dream about wind farms rather than do what the rest of the world is quietly doing- use a great deal less power per unit of domestic product. It is at least an order of magnitude cheaper, decades faster, and reduces the slope of the energy use growth curve- all things that cannot be dreamed about by the wind/solar/etc crowd.

Keep dreaming. We'll get there, but only long after Europe and others have driven our delusional mythical American exceptionalisms into the ground.

Posted by: wither at March 11, 2010 10:14 AM

wind farms are a dream made possible by conservation and efficiency, silly. everybody just assumes that, though to different degrees.

Posted by: hapa at March 11, 2010 10:24 AM


Thanks for that link to the Dan Barber talk. Dan is a friend of mine that I have known since cooking school-yes I have a chef's background but no longer cook. He is a very interesting guy who practices what he preaches. He is not an anarchist like myself, I don't think, but his heart and values are in the right place.-Tony

Posted by: tony at March 11, 2010 01:40 PM

Yeah, we can greatly increase efficiency, but even if we reach Japanese standards, that is a hell of a lot of energy to meet any way but renewably. And renewable energy contributes to en energy efficiency. Electric cars and electric trains are pretty efficient, but some of that efficiency gets eaten up if the electricty that drives them comes form coal.

Posted by: Gar Lipow at March 11, 2010 08:49 PM

Tony - that's really cool.

i wonder why that link didnt show up as a link(you can click now). i now notice that some comments in that thread are also wondering about the replicability. Though i now think of it a bit more, i dont think the exact approach needs to be replicated as much as the idea behind it -i.e, work out a system that utilizes(not exploits) the principles of ecological relationships to provide a sustainable future in food.

PS: i am also not sure how the water gets purified without flushing the toxins into the sea...

Posted by: almostinfamous at March 11, 2010 10:05 PM


Yes...I thought some of the comments regarding Dans talk where perceptive and accurate given my general knowledge of how ecosystems work and such. I have no idea how water can get purified and somehow the toxins disappear.

Another thing Dan said that I take issue with was that the problem of hunger was a problem of distribution. Its not a problem of distribution, it's a problem of capitalism. This is always going to exists as long as capitalism exists. There are always going to be people starving to death and struggling to survive as long as capitalism exists. There is no way around it

So it is all well and good to want local communities, where ever they are, to be self sustainable and rely on locally grown produce and such, but as long as US subsidized agriculture can flood say Haiti, then locally grown and sustainable is pipe dream, at least as far as the third world is concerned. Of course this can change if and when the US empire crumbles and those traditionally under the US boot have a chance to take charge of their own affairs which is happening in many places in South America as I am sure you know.-Tony

Posted by: tony at March 12, 2010 02:05 PM

Judging from the map, looks like some states will still not have caught on to wind technology in another 20 years.

Posted by: acuvue oasys at March 13, 2010 12:43 AM

>Judging from the map, looks like some states will still not have caught on to wind technology in another 20 years.

Again, if we fail to take aggressive action, to think big.

>>"There will never be a corrupt wind oligarchy."

>it's already here, oh ye of too much faith

Yup. I've dealt with the people in the wind industry my opinion based on personal face-to-face dealing is that Hapa is right. But that is besides the point, in my opinion. Fossil fuels are a deadly poison, destroying our civilization, and killing lots of individuals in the meantime. Wind really is clean energy. Not perfectly clean, but cleaner than coal, cleaner than oil, cleaner than natural gas, cleaner than uranium, cleaner than most biomass. I'd rather our power come from an evil wind industry than an evil oil industry. And if you know a way to create a tiny revolution so that we end up with a virtuous, worker owned wind industry instead, well that would be great. But in the meantime I'll take wind over oil, even if in some cases they are both owned by the same people.

Here is a counterfactual. Suppose right now instead of evil pharma, we had evil medicine shows, with most of their cures based on arsenic or cocaine, and who also bled people to let out the bad humors. And then suppose we had a chance to bring in real pharma with antibiotics and pain killers that worked, and immunization and treatments for blood pressure, and so on. Even though big pharma pushes through plenty of undertested medicine that does more harm than good, and promotes over-treatment, and contributes to not paying enough attention to nutrition, wouldn't you take them over the arsenic dispensing quacks who did not believe in antibiotics, if that was the choice. Well in the short tun that is the choice. I don't believe we are going to see the workers own the means of production any time soon. Quite frankly, I'd be thrilled to get single-payer health care. But we might be able to replace our evil oil and gas and coal industries with evil wind and solar and efficiency industries. We might even be able to get some public ownership for some of this, though I warn you that publicly owned utilities can be evil too. (Can you say "TVA"? I knew you could.) At any rate, I prefer medicine to poison, even if someone evil is the vendor in both cases.

Posted by: Gar Lipow at March 13, 2010 11:40 PM

the way i think of it is, in a world of billions of people, you can't solve agency problems indirectly. arbitrage is too easy, hiding in plain sight is too easy.

Posted by: hapa at March 14, 2010 07:48 AM

@acuvue oasis -

As for some states "not catching on", actually the low/zero wind penetration in LA, MS, and AL reflects that there's no resource there. Can't harvest what doesn't grow. CT surprises me, but probably geography and size explain it. The wind capacity per state is not normalized to area, and there might not be much of an offshore resource in CT because the Sound is buffered from the wind by Long Island. But this is a guess.

Posted by: Aaron Datesman at March 14, 2010 10:50 AM

Really enjoying this thread, hope you keep it up, Aaron, and all of you "smarter" commenters... Thanks again to Tiny Revolution for hosting.

Thank you John Halle for pointing out Saul Griffith, he definitely adds to the conversation. I sat through his whole video and was enthralled.

Nor had I heard of the “Long Now” Foundation before now.

And, "Almost Infamous," thank you for the heads up about Dan Barber – his love affair with a fish was wonderful (and amazingly germane to this conversation I think).

These “Connections” just keep getting better and better. Anyone remember James Burke the "Connections" guy from many years ago?

Posted by: Grandpa Ken at March 14, 2010 01:56 PM

>As for some states "not catching on", actually the low/zero wind penetration in LA, MS, and AL reflects that there's no resource there. Can't harvest what doesn't grow.

True enough, but you can move it from places where it does grow. Transmission lines. Or hydrogen pipelines if you insist, though I think hydrogen is an awful medium for transporting energy. I'm not even sure it is best for storing, though there are some real arguments to be made on the storage count.

Posted by: Gar Lipow at March 14, 2010 02:59 PM

connecticut is one of the northeastern states that is majority dependent on a single, aging nuclear plant for its electricity. since wind works better as a regional resource, capital for energy efficiency investments is constrained, and fisheries are shared, i picture the whole north atlantic coast transitioning together, when things get serious.

Posted by: hapa at March 14, 2010 03:41 PM

Thanks indeed as tony said almostinfamous for that link to that Dan Barber talk. He is a smart and funny guy.

Posted by: N E at March 16, 2010 09:24 PM

glad i could be share something of common interest, though such talks always leave something out for various reasons, it's good when such things excite more minds than just mine

Posted by: almostinfamous at March 17, 2010 02:35 PM