Thanks to steeply falling wind power costs (from the early 1980s until today) and rapidly advancing technology, wind capacity is growing faster than any other energy technology in the world today: 22 percent a year during the 1990s and 40 percent for the past few years.10 In the 1990s, wind power capacity tripled every 3 years. By the end of 1999, world wind capacity was 13,400 MW, and worldwide investment in wind power was roughly $11 billion. Further large expansions of wind capacity are planned over the next decade: Wind projects are under development in nearly 40 countries.
If appropriate policies are adopted, wind could produce 10 percent of the world's electricity by 2020 according to BTM Consult, an international wind energy consulting firm.11 BTM calculated that 1.2 million MW of wind capacity could be installed in the next two decades. That would produce as much electricity as Europe now consumes—and more than all of Asia and Latin America consume combined—while creating 1.7 million new jobs and avoiding billions of tons of carbon dioxide emissions. Just with current trends and policies, Europe's wind capacity will rise to 40,000 MW by 2010 and to 100,000 MW by 2020, according to the European Wind Energy Association.
Prodigious untapped wind resources exist in central Asia, Europe, North America, and parts of Latin America. China's wind resources, for example, are sufficient to produce as much electricity as China consumes. The United States easily has sufficient wind resources to produce three times the nation's 1990 power consumption. Just the high-quality U.S. wind resources alone (Class 5—7) would be enough to site 3,500,000 MW of wind capacity, using only 1 percent of U.S. land, excluding sensitive and protected areas.12
As wind technology becomes more efficient and economical, lower grades of wind resources, which are far more ample, can be exploited. For example, Class 4 resources have several times the energy potential of the Class 5—7 resources.
The nation's huge wind resources represent an enormous energy bonanza. At the average systemwide residential electricity price of about 8.2 cents/kwh in the United States today, U.S. wind resources could produce gross revenues of more than $60 billion a year if 20 percent of U.S. electricity were wind generated.
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