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Wind Turbines (Onshore)

Wind turbine under construction

Wind energy is at the crest of initiatives to address global warming in the coming three decades. Today, 314,000 wind turbines supply nearly 4 percent of global electricity, and it will soon be much more. In 2015, a record 63 gigawatts of wind power were installed around the world.

The wind industry is marked by a proliferation of turbines, dropping costs, and heightened performance. In many locales, wind is either competitive with or less expensive than coal-generated electricity—and it has no fuel costs and no pollution. Ongoing cost reduction will soon make wind energy the least expensive source of electricity, perhaps within a decade.

Onshore wind farms have small footprints, typically using no more than 1 percent of the land they sit on, so grazing, farming, recreation, or conservation can happen simultaneously with power generation. What’s more, it takes one year or less to build a wind farm—quickly producing energy and a return on investment.

The variable nature of wind means there are times when turbines are not turning. Wind energy, like other sources of energy, is part of a system. Investment in 24-7 renewables such as geothermal, energy storage, transmission infrastructure, and distributed generation is essential to its growth.


Liverpool…Burbo Bank Extension: Schwägerl, Christian. “Offshore Wind Energy is Booming in Europe.” Yale Environment 360. October 20, 2016.

314,000 wind turbines supply…electricity: GWEC. “Wind in Numbers.”; REN21. Renewables 2016 Global Status Report. Paris: REN21 Secretariat, 2016.

Ten million homes in Spain: GWEC, “Numbers.”

Investment in offshore wind: “Record $30bn year for Offshore Wind But Overall Investment Down.” Bloomberg New Energy Finance. January 12, 2017.

[history of wind power]: Hills, Richard L. Power from Wind: A History of Windmill Technology. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1996.; “Timeline: The History of Wind Power.” The Guardian. October 17, 2008; DOE. “History of U.S. Wind Energy.”

2015…wind power [installations]: REN21, Renewables 2016.

[U.S.] wind energy potential: Elliott, D.L., L.L. Wendell, and G.L. Gower. An Assessment of the Available Windy Land Area and Wind Energy Potential in the Contiguous United States. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Energy, 1991. 

fossil fuel…subsidies: Coady, David, Ian Parry, Louis Sears, and Baoping Shang. IMF Working Paper: How Large Are Global Energy Subsidies? Washington, D.C.: International Monetary Fund, 2015. 

Current costs; “lowest cost source”: Hensley, John. “New Reports Highlight Bright, Low-Cost Future of Wind.” Into the Wind—the AWEA (blog). August 18, 2016; Kooroshy, Jaakko, Brian Lee, Franklin Chow, Stefan Burgstaller, Justus Schirmacher, Daniela Costa, Michael Lapides, and Alberto Gandolfi. The Low Carbon Economy: Technology in the Driver’s Seat. The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc. November 28, 2016.

[cost of] projects built in 2016: Hensley, “Future.”

Bloomberg New Energy Finance: Randall, Tom. “The World Nears Peak Fossil Fuels for Electricity.” Bloomberg. June 13, 2016.

United States…capacity factors: WINDExchange. “Potential Wind Capacity.”

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p. 4

Correction: In Germany in 2015, bottlenecks in the grid caused 4,100 gigawatt-hours of wind electricity to be wasted—enough energy to power 1.2 million homes for a year.

Correction: An increase in onshore wind from 3 to 4 percent of world electricity use to 21.6 percent by 2050 could reduce emissions by 84.6 gigatons of carbon dioxide.

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