A commenter on my last story about wind derided wind power because of seeing turbines “not turning”. Like most people, she didn’t know that wind farms are frequently shut down by grid operators, because there is no room on the grid. But it raised a question in my mind. How much is shut down?
Although I knew that a lot of potential wind power has to be idled for lack of transmission – and also, as Jonathan Marshall at PG&E told me: for lack of customers in the dead of night – I didn’t know just how often wind farms are asked to shut down operations to reduce congestion, and to help her understand the reason, I went looking for the exact figures.
I found the rather astonishing answer in a story I’d missed in February at Greentechmedia.
“Approximately 25 TWh (yes, 25 terawatt-hours) of wind energy was curtailed (idled) in the U.S. last year to keep the off-peak grid energy price from frequently going negative. That is about equal to the energy in 700 million gallons of gasoline just being thrown away. Curtailed wind energy in the U.S. appears likely to exceed 40 TWh in 2011″.
The reason there is such a disconnect between wind and transmission is that a wind farm can can be built in a year or so, but transmission can take at least 5 or 6 years, because the permitting is even more bogged down by multiple bureaucracies and by NIMBY resistance than wind farms themselves. Transmission is owned by so many entities in the US that it is hard to streamline it.
The wasted power is frustrating enough for a nation that really could use “the equivalent of 700 million gallons of gasoline a year” in clean energy. But also, from the point of view of wind financing, it is a negative factor.
Although it is technically easier to idle a wind farm than a coal plant, the frequent idling cuts into profits more, making it costlier than it needs to be to build more clean wind energy. When coal plants have to shut down, at least they save fuel costs. But wind farms need to ship all their potential wind to make money, because (since wind is free) “fuel” is not factored in as a cost of business.
Wind farms are going up in vast tracts of empty land where wind is strongest, and until now, that has been mostly deserted land that our ancestors did not settle (because it was too windy!) and so villages did not grow into cities there. But transmission was developed where population was concentrated, not where wind is.
This story at Greentechmedia was about one of the many solutions to the storage problem – installing manufacturing operations at wind farms, in this case to make a “windfuel”.
Storage innovation for this wasted energy is the exciting story of our time. There’s a wealth of innovation aimed at putting all this clean power to use.
Related articles from Cleantechnica
Why Wind Storage will be Worth Trillions
Liquid Air Tested to Store Renewable Energy in UK
General Compression’s Storage Can Ramp-up in Seconds
California Proposes First Renewable Energy Storage Requirements
Make Ice at Night to Store Wind Energy
For Baseload Wind Cheaper than Fossil Fuels
Storing Renewable Energy in Boxes of Air
Top ARPA-E Funding Goes to Renewable Storage in “Liquid Battery”
Metal-Air Battery With 11 Times the Energy at Half the Cost?
Pump Hydro Underground to Store Wind Power
These are just some of the ideas being worked on to solve this. If you have an idea for using all that excess wind power, suggest it here. We expect to have 40 TWh of the stuff going begging this year.
Susan Kraemer writes at CleanTechnica, CSP-Today, PV-Insider , SmartGridUpdate and GreenProphet and has been published at Ecoseed, NRDC OnEarth, MatterNetwork, Celsius, EnergyNow and Scientific American. As a former serial entrepreneur in product design she brings an innovator's perspective on inventing a carbon-constrained civilization: If necessity is the mother of invention: solving climate change is the mother of all necessities! As a lover of history and sci fi, she enjoys chronicling the strange future we are creating in these interesting times. Follow Susan @dotcommodity on twitter.