It seems America can’t go a single month without setting a new record for wind power generation across the nation’s grid. In fact, during December, wind energy surged ahead to set two new integration records – one in Texas, and the other in the Southern Midwest.
Yet Another Texas Wind Record
Everything is bigger in Texas, so naturally it set the larger wind integration record on its transmission system. Turbines across the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), grid operator for most of the Lone Star State, set a new record by generating 8,638 megawatts (MW) of electricity on Christmas Day.
The new ERCOT record represented 25.7% of the system’s total 39,847 MW load at the time, beating the previous record set just over a month earlier, when ERCOT integrated 8,521MW of wind energy on November 10th.
While the new record only passed the previous mark by around 90 MW, the duration of high wind capacity deserves notice. Wind output was at 70% or greater of Texas’ 10,000 MW of total installed capacity for more than 14 straight hours, peaking just after 3:00 p.m.
ERCOT has set several wind power records this year, a trend attributed to improved grid management. “With new tools and experience, our operators have learned how to harness every megawatt of power they can when the wind is blowing at high levels,” said Kent Saathoff, ERCOT vice president of grid operations.
Winds of Change Blow Across SPP
But ERCOT wasn’t alone. Wind energy generated 5.9 GW of electricity across the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) during the evening of December 2nd – more than 30% total system demand. A few days later, the system set a new total capacity record with 6.3 GW total wind energy across its grid, but higher total demand at the time meant the overall percentage was under the December 2nd mark.
SPP may be a smaller grid operator than ERCOT, but the potential for wind as a percentage across its system could be just as significant. As of 2011, wind only represented 6% of total energy across the system, compared to 87% coal or natural gas.
However, the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) estimated SPP would have 7.78 GW total wind capacity online by the end of 2012, and SPP had more than 27 GW of queued interconnection requests – compared to around 8.6 GW of coal or natural gas. As noted in SPP’s 2011 State of the Market report, “the percentage of generation derived from coal will likely decline.”
SPP does face significant congestion issues moving its growing wind capacity to meet demand, indicating it will need to invest in transmission and grid management tools to realize wind’s full potential.
Can Wind Power an Entire Region?
Now that Congress has finally renewed the Production Tax Credit for 2013, wind’s booming growth will continue through the New Year. With 21,000 MW of new wind capacity under review and 2,400 miles of new transmission lines under construction in ERCOT, it’s not hard to see a scenario where wind could provide most of Texas’ electricity in the near future. Now, if congestion constraints can be alleviated in SPP, the entire region could gust toward a wind-powered portfolio.
Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy public relations company based in Washington, D.C.