Could we power all cars entirely from wind power?

Wind Power Alone is Not Enough

Power generating windmills line Interstate 10 near Palm Springs, Calif.
Power generating windmills line Interstate 10 near Palm Springs, Calif.
AP Photo/Michael Caulfield

Powering the country's car fleet by wind power takes into account a lot of assumptions. First and foremost is the assumption the fleet would be electrically powered. According to governmental and private sources this would be a feat in and of itself.

But even if this scenario came to pass, which Connors and others believe to be unlikely until at least 2050, the numbers are still daunting.

Current figures put the United States consumption of gasoline for travel at about 400 million gallons (1.5 million liters) per day. An electric car, with today's modern technology behind it, requires roughly 40 kilowatt hours to achieve the same distance as a car averaging about 15 miles per gallon (6.4 kilometers per liter).

These numbers are rough estimates and do not take into account terrain, automotive efficiency and a host of other factors. They do point to a larger picture, however, as the country's electricity producers would need to create about 16 trillion kilowatt hours of energy per day to achieve roughly the same energy level as produced by the gasoline consumed in the same period.

On a more personal scale it's estimated that one car uses about 500 gallons (1,893 liters) of fuel each year. Based on the same number of 40 kilowatt hours per gallon, one car would require about 20,000 kilowatt hours of energy each year to commute a conservative 10,000 miles (16,093 kilometers). In 2006, the U.S. Department of Transportation estimated the number of passenger cars at about 251 million. Crunch the numbers and the final tally is another daunting figure. But then the total amount of electricity produced in the United States through all sources in 2007 was more than 4 trillion megawatt hours [source: U.S. Energy Information Administration]. And one megawatt hour is equal to 1,000 kilowatt hours.

In essence, the country could shift to electric vehicles to meet demand, but not through wind power alone. Instead, it will take a larger portfolio of renewable energy to accomplish the task.