Could wind energy really power 3 million homes?


FILE -Wind turbines produce power during sundown in Emlichheim, Germany, Friday, March 18, 2022. The head of the International Renewable Energy Agency says “radical action” is needed to ensure global warming doesn’t pass dangerous thresholds, warning that greenhouse gas emissions are heading in the wrong direction.(AP Photo/Martin Meissner,file)

(NewsNation) — The U.S. is a step closer toward its goal of increasing wind energy capacity by 20% by the year 2030 — a target experts say is not only within reach, but could be more ambitious.

President Joe Biden on Wednesday proposed a wind energy area in the Gulf of Mexico, covering 700,000 acres with the potential to power more than 3 million homes.

The president has similar plans for the southern Atlantic Coast as well as Florida’s Gulf Coast.

“What I would argue is we also need to step that up,” said Nikit Abhyankar, a scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. “Offshore wind is a significantly promising resource going forward because it has a high capacity factor and globally, things really picking up in the offshore industry.”

Since no energy source is 100% reliable all of the time, diversity has become increasingly important. No home can run on wind or solar alone, just as natural gas also needs access to fuel, said Erin Baker, an engineering professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and director of the school’s Energy Transition Institute.

“We need as much (wind energy) as we can build,” Baker said. “So every goal is a good goal. It just needs to be complemented with other energy generation and probably with storage.”

Offshore wind is particularly appealing for the amount of energy it’s capable of generating, said Gregory Keoleian, the director of the Center for Sustainable Systems at the University of Michigan. Offshore turbines can be built to larger scales and access better wind speeds, he said.

“In the Gulf, they tend to have lower wind speeds, but there are high hurricane risks that need to be addressed,” Keoleian said. “But one should recognize that we have a lot of oil platforms in the Gulf, and they have to deal with hurricanes.”

As the country heads toward a future where households run on grids powered by multiple sources of renewable energy — many of which are becoming more affordable — additional barriers stand in the way.

Meeting the nation’s offshore wind benchmark alone will require an average annual workforce of anywhere from 12,300 to 49,000 people, according to the Department of Energy. It also requires specialized ships to install turbines.

“The biggest thing that probably is needed is transmission,” Baker said. “Modernizing the grid, that is a huge, huge need when it comes to climate change. I think it’s not moving as fast as it should.”

Just more than 20% of the nation’s electricity is supplied by renewable sources. Chief among them is wind, which is responsible for about 9% of the country’s electricity, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

According to Abhyankar, there’s already significant developer interest in building power plants that could provide additional renewable energy, but they face two main obstacles that could be overcome through policy change.

“One key barrier is making sure they also have the transmission permission to connect to the grid,” Abhyankar said. “And the other utilities should really be required to procure or buy renewable electricity. Once those two are generally met, then you’ll see a lot of these power plants actually getting constructed.”

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