Wind helps California power through drought

During my summer internship with AWEA, I discovered that the power sector withdraws more water than any other sector in the U.S. This fact hits me where I live – I’m from the California Bay Area, and I watched our lakes, rivers and snow packs shrink during the 2011-2017 drought.

Water security is a serious issue, but it also offers us the opportunity to progress as a nation. As an energy source that uses virtually no water, wind power conserves water for California, and the rest of the U.S.

After learning about this, I wanted to take a closer look at wind’s history in my home state.

Striking gold

In the mid-nineteenth century, thousands of hopeful miners rode to California, looking to try their luck for a pan of gold. Today, standing in some of the same grassy fields as their predecessors, over 3,000 Californian workers spend their days manufacturing, constructing and maintaining wind turbines. These wind workers have struck a valuable resource, one that’s far more reliable than gold.

Looking back to wind’s roots

California was the world’s original wind power pioneer. According to a study from MIT Press, California embraced commercial wind usage in the 1980s, 10 years before the rest of the world. In fact, utility-scale wind power as we know it was born in the California desert four decades ago.

Thanks to this early progress and American innovation, the U.S. had 87 percent of the world’s wind power by 1985, and a 60 percent share in 1992 as wind took off as a worldwide industry.

Today, we remain home to some of the world’s most productive turbines. For example, a typical 2 megawatt (MW) U.S. turbine powers an average of 510 homes, nearly twice as many as the same turbine in China or Germany.

A window to the Californian wind industry

California remains a wind leader, with 5,561 MW of installed capacity. That’s enough to power 1.3 million homes, and it trails only Texas, Iowa, and Oklahoma.

Wind energy has also helped conserve the state’s natural resources, since it uses virtually no water. When the 2011-2017 drought was depleting California’s water stores, wind power saved the state 3.3 billion gallons of water just in the year 2016 – that’s the equivalent of 25.3 billion water bottles.

Looking forward

California has already begun adding more wind energy to generate clean, low-cost electricity, with 236 MW of wind capacity under construction, and another 182 MW in advanced development.

Because of this long history, it’s no wonder that the Golden State has proved itself as a consistent leader for wind energy.

Check out this video to see the good things Steve Berberich, the Head of California ISO, has to say about California’s renewable future:

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