This paper will specifically discuss the extent to which the USA relies on external petroleum imports and how this dependency could be alleviated in an environmentally friendly and economically stable way by replacing petroleum based electricity generation with wind power alternatives. This principle could pave the way to a brighter future regardless of your stance on Global Warming. The full report with sources and calculations is available for download in PDF format. All numerical sources were obtained directly from publicly available government reports. The calculations using this data are illustrated in the second appendix.
In the year 2006, The United States generated 22% of its electricity from petroleum products, 20.78% of which was imported. This breaks down to 20% from Natural Gas, 18.78% imported and 2% from imported Crude Oil derivatives. These totals accounts for 813 Billion kWh for Total Natural Gas, 763 Billion kW for imported Natural Gas and 81.3 Billion kWh for imported Crude Oil This translates into 844.3 Billion kWh of electricity created using petroleum imports.
To generate 763 Billion kWh of electricity using imported Natural Gas requires 3,177,260,000,000 ft^3 of Natural Gas at an electrical conversion rate of 240.26 kWh per 1000 ft^3. At a cost of $7.11 to convert 1000 ft^3 of Natural Gas to electricity equates to a cost of $22,590,318,600. This number is then added to the cost of importing this quantity of Natural Gas at a cost of $6.88 for 1000 ft^3 which calculates to $21,859,548,800. This result yields a total cost of $44,449,867,400 to produce 763 Billion kWh of electricity using imported Natural Gas.
To generate the Crude Oil contribution of 81.3 Billion kWh of electricity requires 57,448,117 bbls of Crude Oil at an electrical conversion rate of 1415.19 kWh per 1 bbl and accounts for 3.1% of the Crude Oil deficit. To convert 1 bbl of Crude Oil to electricity costs $58.80 and translates into a cost of $3,377,949,251 for the deficit amount. This number is then added to the cost of importing this quantity of Crude Oil at a cost of $59.10 per 1 bbl resulting in an expenditure of $3,395,183,686. The combination of these calculation yields a total cost of $6,773,132,936 for producing 81.3 Billion kWh of electricity using imported Crude Oil.
At this juncture the final deficit is $51,223,000,336 a year to import and then generate 20.78% of the US's electrical output. The objective now turns to the possibilities of creating this 20.78% from other greener sources while still remaining economically viable.
A wind turbine manufactured by General Electric can produce 1,500 kW,2,500 kW and 3,500 kW depending on the model and geographic location of installation at a cost of roughly $1,680 per kW. It is also estimated that any given windmill will operate at 25% efficiency year round. Using these figures to replace imported Natural Gas' electrical production of 763 Billion kWh with Wind Power will cost approximately $585,196,924,101; while the cost to replace imported Crude Oil's production of 81.3 Billion kWh with Wind Power is $62,324,435,318. The grand total required to establish this enormous Wind Power infrastructure would be $647,521,359,420. Using the three GE models requires between 179,867,044, 259,008,544 and 431,680,906 turbines. If we also acknowledge the fact that energy can be resold at a rate of approximately 2¢/kWh-10¢/kWh additional funds can be raised. According to the US Department of Energy the average resale value for wind power is $36/MWh (3.6¢/kWh) and would equate to a resale value of $32,194,800,000 a year. Based on these figures Wind Power could replace Fossil Fuel imports and recoup capital after 7.93 years if interest rates and inflation are ignored and even faster if they were considered.
The region in which a wind turbine is installed is an important factor to consider in achieving adequate electricity generation; for this section we will use farmland as an estimate because it is often flat and therefore windy as well as easily accessible. In 2002 there were 938.28 Million Acres of farm land in the US. Using this information and the requirement for between 179,867,044, 259,008,544 and 431,680,906 turbines to replace the electricity generation power of imported Petroleum leads to a turbine per acre ratio of .487, .292 and .203 respectively for the 1,500 kW,2,500 kW and 3,500 kW models when applied to farmland data. If these same turbine quantities are applied to total land in the USA the numbers then become .202, .121 and .084 respectively for the 1,500 kW,2,500 kW and 3,500 kW models. The kWh need per acre of farmland is 953.127 kWh and the ratio per acre for all land is 395.016 kWh in order to overcome the 844.3 Billion kWh produced from petroleum.
The information provided in the body of this report clearly shows that replacing petroleum imports with wind power could be an economically viable option capable of alleviating the USA's dependence on foreign petroleum imports for electricity production. This environmentally friendly approach would greatly reduce hazardous emissions released when petroleum is processed; these same emissions disrupt the ozone layer and theoretically contribute to global warming. But despite its excellent economic outlook there exist inherent issues that need to be addressed. The turbine per acre ratios are simply too large to warrant serious consideration for installation on either farmland or for total land in the USA. For this project to become a reality it would require mass adoption by the general public which raises additional concerns. The baseline issue would be the steep initial cost preventing adoption by the working class while fundamentally benefiting the wealthy. A system would have to be devised that would level the playing field for all demographics.
Two main proposals rise to the top. The first would be to force all farmers to install the required number of windmills on their property, the installation and equipment would be paid for by the government, and the government would reap the resale profits of electricity sales. However those resale profits would go directly into the farmer subsidy fund and if a given farmer qualified they would receive financial assistance, similar to the current system, but preferably with larger benefits because they are sacrificing some of their resources, mainly land, to provide energy to the country. If the guidelines for farming assistance are not met, the government would simply be allowed to add that money to the budget. There could be different tiers of commitment for the farmers to choose each with different subsidy options requiring certain threshold turbine per acre ratios to be met.
The second proposal would function in accordance with how the current electricity buy back laws work. If a citizen generates excess electricity the utilities are required to buy it back. In this situation the owner of the windmill would directly reap the profits of the electricity resale, but they would also be required to fund the initial investment. This approach increases the time required for the government to breakeven but would also increase the focus on renewable energy and a stronger long term economic outlook. This plan would require moderation to prevent only the rich from benefitting. There could be a set number of windmills that all citizens were entitled to build or there could be some sort of moving multiplier, similar to the tax code that would place a cap on resale returns. In either case the Department of Energy could regulate the process and have the power to make exceptions where necessary.
If a combination of these two proposals were applied wind power could replace imported petroleum for electricity generation in the USA and create an infrastructure of clean, renewable energy for years to come. The only down side to such a proposal is the lack of analysis on other alternatives such as Solar Power that could potentially provide a greater advantage in cost and viability. To provide an alternative comparison to Wind Power, the next publication will focus on the viability of Solar Power.
The results of our research align with the proposals put forth by the American Wind Energy Association and their goal for Wind Power to provide 20% of America's electricity by the year 2030.
Update: The objective and methods described in this plan match closely with that of a proposal presented by Al Gore on July 17th. Al Gore's plan calls for the replacement of fossil fuel generated electricity through the renewable resources of wind, solar and geothermal. While our paper focuses strictly on how wind power could replace fossil fuels, the paper also provides detailed information pertaining how the USA uses fossil fuels to generate electricity and its associated cost. The math behind Al Gore's plan can be found in the second appendix.