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Publication Date
20 October 2020

Climate Change & Wind Power

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Powerpoint Slide
Contemporary & projected wind resources: a| Mean annual energy density at ~100m a.g.l. for 1980-2005 (left) and the difference between 2075-2099 and 1980-2005 (right) from WRF at 12 km nested in MPI-ESM-LR. b| as in a, but at ~60m derived using MPAS simulations at 25 km resolution. Only grid cells where differences are significant at ⍺ =0.05 are shown. Illustration of a key uncertainty – terrain drag: c| Energy density computed with MPAS for 2008 with (left) and without (right) terrain drag.

Wind energy is a virtual carbon- and pollution-free electricity source, with global wind resources, greatly exceeding electricity demand. Accordingly, the installed capacity of wind turbines grew at an annualized rate >20% from 2000 to 2019 and is projected to increase by a further 50% by the end of 2023. We show expansion of wind turbine installed capacity from 433 GW in 2011 to 5000 GW in 2050 leads to 154 Gigatons of avoided CO2 emissions equivalent to 5 times annual anthropogenic CO2 emissions. In this Review, we also describe the factors that dictate the wind resource magnitude and variability and illustrate the tools and techniques that are being used to make projections of wind resources and wind turbine operating conditions. Natural variability due to the action of internal climate modes appears to dominate over global-warming induced non-stationarity over most areas with large wind energy installations or potential. However, there is evidence for increased wind energy resources by the end of the current century in northern Europe and the US Southern Great Plains. New technology trends are changing the sensitivity of wind energy to global climate non-stationarity and thus present new challenges and opportunities for innovative research. The evolution of climate modeling to increasingly address mesoscale processes is providing improved projections of both wind resources and wind turbine operating conditions and will contribute to continued reductions in levelized cost of energy from wind power generation.  


The potentially exploitable wind energy resource exhibits marked spatial variability. Global estimates vary from 70 to 3,050 EJ/yr (or 19,400 to 840,000 TWh/yr) according to assumptions regarding atmospheric conditions (for example, wind regime), technology (for example, type of wind turbines (WT) deployed, WT installed density and electrical power production efficiency), economic constraints and exclusions (that is areas where development is prohibited). However, there is consensus that the resource greatly exceeds both the current global electricity demand and total primary energy supply. For these and other reasons,  the global installed capacity (IC) of WT increased at a mean annualized rate of ~ 26% from 2002-2018, and 19% over 2009-2018, reaching ~ 600 GW at the end of 2018. Projections indicate installed wind energy capacity could readily reach 5806 GW by 2050. Thus, there is a need to ensure that current assumptions about wind resources and operating conditions continue to be valid in the future.


We show expansion of wind turbine installed capacity from 433 GW in 2011 to 5800 GW in 2050 leads to 154 Gigatons of avoided CO2 emissions equivalent to 5 times annual anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Downscaling of current-generation climate projections indicates only a modest impact on wind resources in high resource areas of the USA and Europe. However, further research is needed to more comprehensively address wind turbine operating conditions and to refine estimates of potential climate change impacts on the industry. We document emerging trends in the industry and provide a roadmap for research needs. 

Point of Contact
S.C. Pryor
Cornell University
Funding Program Area(s)