Interactive Map Unveils the Mystery of Wind Turbines
A road trip through Iowa, Wyoming or eastern Colorado features plenty of twirling wind turbines, and they might beg a question: How much wind power can those turbines generate?
And how big are those turbine blades, anyway?
Each dot on this USGS interactive map signifies a wind turbine or cluster of wind turbines.
A new U.S. Geological Survey mapping tool, using data published Tuesday in the journal Scientific Data, lifts the veil on the mystery of more than 49,000 wind turbines spinning above fields and mountaintops across the country. Combined, those turbines generate about 31 percent of all renewable energy in the U.S., or more than 61 gigawatts of electricity, enough to power nearly 15 million homes.
Renewables such as wind power are critical in a warming world because they generate low carbon energy and help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and America’s reliance on fossil fuels for electric power generation.
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As the demand for wind power grows, there’s also a growing need for data about the nation’s wind farms. Scientists are studying how turbines affect wildlife and radar equipment, and how wind turbine wakes create microclimates.
“In 2008, USGS scientists began studying energy infrastructure and found sparse and often spatially inaccurate publicly available information regarding wind turbines and their locations. This eventually led to an effort to map wind turbines across the entire U.S.,” the study says.
To help answer those questions, the USGS compiled decades of wind turbine construction records and data from the Federal Aviation Administration on height, blade length and power generating capacity of every individual utility-scale wind turbine across the U.S. All told, the agency compiled data on 48,976 wind turbines that are at least 30.5 meters (100 feet) tall.
Click on a turbine, and its height, blade length and other specifications appear. This turbine is southwest of Chicago.
The result is an interactive map that allows users to pinpoint a wind farm, click on a turbine and learn all its specifications. And, it shows how wind farms are distributed throughout the U.S. (The map makes it clear that the Southeast, for example, has almost no wind farms.)
So, if you’re driving southwest out of Chicago on Interstate 55 and wonder how big the wind turbines near the town of Odell, Ill, are, the USGS map can tell you.
Those turbines, part of the Streator Cayuga Ridge Wind Farm, are huge — 438 feet tall with blades 142 feet long, each with the capacity to generate 2 megawatts of electricity.
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