Using output from a high-resolution meteorological simulation, we evaluate the sensitivity of southern California wind energy generation to variations in key characteristics of current wind turbines. These characteristics include hub height, rotor diameter and rated power, and depend on turbine make and model. They shape the turbine's power curve and thus have large implications for the energy generation capacity of wind farms. For each characteristic, we find complex and substantial geographical variations in the sensitivity of energy generation. However, the sensitivity associated with each characteristic can be predicted by a single corresponding climate statistic, greatly simplifying understanding of the relationship between climate and turbine optimization for energy production. In the case of the sensitivity to rotor diameter, the change in energy output per unit change in rotor diameter at any location is directly proportional to the weighted average wind speed between the cut-in speed and the rated speed. The sensitivity to rated power variations is likewise captured by the percent of the wind speed distribution between the turbines rated and cut-out speeds. Finally, the sensitivity to hub height is proportional to lower atmospheric wind shear. Using a wind turbine component cost model, we also evaluate energy output increase per dollar investment in each turbine characteristic. We find that rotor diameter increases typically provide a much larger wind energy boost per dollar invested, although there are some zones where investment in the other two characteristics is competitive. Our study underscores the need for joint analysis of regional climate, turbine engineering and economic modeling to optimize wind energy production. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.