More Wind Farms Mean Cheaper Energy

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Just as we Americans are finally really and truly internalizing the real cost of sticking with fossil fuels, due to the Gulf sea floor gusher, a timely NREL study finds wind power makes electricity that’s not just cleaner, but it’s also much cheaper.

If the Western US generated 30% of its electricity with wind power, costs would drop 40%, the NREL reveals in The Western Wind and Solar Integration Study. Under various integration scenarios exhaustively considered in great detail in a “what-if” and “how-to” analysis for the WestConnect group of utilities, there would also be a reduction  in carbon dioxide emissions of at least 25% and as much as 45%.


The study comes at a welcome time, because this is the year that electric cars are finally poised to appear on the US market, creating a real alternative to the oil-powered commute, since EVs could be charged with clean energy like solar and wind power, and the gulf disaster shows us clearly what the alternative is.

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The NREL and the US Department of Energy sponsored the study, with input from 13 technical experts at turbine-maker GE and 17 at NREL; intended to help the utility sector in integrating more renewable power.

Four of the five states involved in WestConnect already have Renewable Portfolio Standards or Renewable Energy Standards (RES) requiring between15-30% renewable power by 2020-2025. The four are Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and New Mexico. Only Wyoming does not have an RES.

The members of WestConnect include Arizona Public Service, El Paso Electric Co., NV Energy, Public Service of New Mexico, Salt River Project, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Cooperative, Tucson Electric Power, Western Area Power Administration, and Xcel Energy.

The NREL published a corresponding study for the Eastern states in January. A related update of overall wind power potential by the NREL found that the US could produce 37 million Gigawatt-hours of electricity from wind every year, far more than currently required (only 3 million Gigawatt-hours annually).

The DOE/NREL  exhaustively conducted statistical analysis and production simulations of various scenarios for high renewables penetrations of 30% wind power, 3.5% concentrating solar power (CSP) and 1.5% PV. Like a slew of other studies of wind integration in Europe and now in the US, the study found that high percentages of wind-generated electricity can be reliably integrated into utility systems at little trouble.

The study questions considered included:

How do local resources compare to remote, higher quality resources delivered

by long distance transmission

How does geographic diversity help to mitigate variability?

Can balancing area cooperation mitigate variability?

How should reserve requirements be modified to account for the variability in

wind and solar?

What is the benefit of integrating wind and solar forecasting into grid operations?

How can hydro generation help with integration of renewables?

Despite common wisdom fears about wind’s intermittency; with a large grid, contingency reserve shortfalls were found to represent only a tiny percentage (about 0.005%) of the total load energy.

Affecting only about 89 hours in an average year, a demand response program could address the contingency reserve shortfall. Balancing areas that balance load and generation within a defined area could maintain scheduled interchanges with other balancing areas.

Utility operating costs would drop from approximately $50 billion down to about $20 billion a year with 30% wind, yielding benefits to the economy and to the environment, saving American consumers money.

Image: Greenpeace

Source: AWEA

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