Recent NASA studies on the effects of climate change have been rather harrowing, highlighting the need for alternative energy sources. NASA climate scientist Dr. Drew Shindell stated that “it's more clear than ever that we need large, rapid emissions reductions to avoid the worst damages from climate change.”
Reducing our overall energy usage is obviously a big part of curtailing emissions. But renewable energy sources are also a key piece of the puzzle. So it is somewhat heartening to play watch this .GIF of wind-farm growth from the Department of Energy.
The map starts with one tiny wind farm in southern California in 1975. From there, wind farms continue to spread throughout California for the next two decades. Then in 1994 the first wind farm outside of California appears. From there, they quickly spread across 39 states by 2012 (the most recent statistics available). You can play with an interactive version of this map here.
The good news: the amount of electricity we are generating from wind power is growing exponentially. In 2012, wind energy was the number one source of new energy capacity, accounting for 42% of new power on the grid.
The bad news: wind power is not growing fast enough. Current projections from the Energy Information Administration estimate that wind power will still only account for 4.6% of total electricity generation in 2015.
Another thing to keep in mind is that energy capacity does not directly translate to energy use. And not all energy use is created equal. Although the wind farms in the U.S. are capable of powering 15 million homes, not all of that energy is going directly into residential use. When a wind farm produces more energy than the grid needs, the excess is often stored in batteries. Storing power in batteries, even lithium-ion batteries, is not as environmentally friendly as consuming power straight from the grid.
So if your home is being powered by climate-changing fossil fuels, remember that you might have an alternative readily available. For example, in New York, it's as simple as changing your energy service company through Con Ed.