The National Academy of Sciences recently released a study claiming that wind energy could provide more than 16 times the total electricity consumption in the United States.

The study, titled “Global potential for wind-generated electricity” and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that a linked, world-wide network of 2.5 MW land-based wind turbines could produce 40 times the total global consumption of electricity and five times the total energy consumed in all forms. For the purposes of the study, it was assumed that the turbines operate at only 20% capacity, although wind farms built in the United States in 2004 and 2005 averaged a capacity factor just shy of 36%. (National Wind’s projects typically average well above that.) The study also excluded turbine placement in densely populated areas, heavily forested areas and areas often covered in snow or ice. It also does not account for off-shore wind farms.

The study also looked at CO₂ emissions worldwide and found that the top four emitters of the pollutant–China, the United States, Russia and Japan–could replace the entirety of their electricity consumption with wind energy, therefor eliminating the emission of CO₂ in generating electricity.

Of course, the study presents more of a theoretical “What if?” rather than a feasible plan for renewable energy expansion. The idea of filling any available space worldwide with wind turbines is impractical, but it does serve to highlight the amount of wind energy available across the globe. Any pragmatic and environmentally conscious energy policy will include a variety of renewable energy options, but this study illustrates how vital a role wind energy can play.

Listen to a Scientific American podcast about the study here.