Solving Wind’s Variability with More (Dispersed) Wind

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Cross-posted from Energy Self-Reliant States.

The solution to the variability of wind power is more wind.

The output from a single wind turbine can vary widely over a short period of time, as wind goes from gusty to calm.  The adjacent graphic (from this report) illustrates how a single turbine in Texas provided varying power output over a single day, varying from under 20 percent of capacity to near 100 percent!

But the same report also illustrated the smoothing effect when the output from these five wind sites was averaged.  The following chart shows (in dark orange), the smoothing effect of output when the wind output was averaged over five sites.

The impact is significant, and the optimized system varies from 15 to 50 percent of capacity, compared to individual turbine variability that’s twice as large.  Over a longer period (a year), the optimized (combined) system provides significantly more reliable power to the electric grid.  It reduces periods of zero output to a few hours per year, effectively zero probability.

Combining the output of the five sites also increases the probability that the output will be at least 5% or 10% of total capacity of the wind turbines.

Other studies have reinforced these findings.  For example, a report by Cristina Archer and Mark Jacobson in 2007 found that dispersing wind at 19 sites over an area the size of Texas increased the level of guaranteed output by 4 times.

Wind power could not be the sole source of electricity for the grid without massive overbuilding of capacity, but its variability is an argument for more dispersed wind, rather than less of it.

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John Farrell

John directs the Democratic Energy program at ILSR and he focuses on energy policy developments that best expand the benefits of local ownership and dispersed generation of renewable energy. His seminal paper, Democratizing the Electricity System, describes how to blast the roadblocks to distributed renewable energy generation, and how such small-scale renewable energy projects are the key to the biggest strides in renewable energy development.   Farrell also authored the landmark report Energy Self-Reliant States, which serves as the definitive energy atlas for the United States, detailing the state-by-state renewable electricity generation potential. Farrell regularly provides discussion and analysis of distributed renewable energy policy on his blog, Energy Self-Reliant States (, and articles are regularly syndicated on Grist and Renewable Energy World.   John Farrell can also be found on Twitter @johnffarrell, or at

John Farrell has 518 posts and counting. See all posts by John Farrell

4 thoughts on “Solving Wind’s Variability with More (Dispersed) Wind

  • Thanks for sharing this article here John.

    I’d really like to see a different version of the first two graphs. Graph one (Figure 3), as it is now. Graph two, only the dark orange line. The difference would be more obvious to all, I would think.

  • Excellent post on Wind’s variability with dispersed wind John Farrell. The main constraint with wind for wider applicability is its variability and intermittent nature. Thanks for the excellent information. As a Wind Energy Expert I liked it.

    Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP),India
    Wind Energy Expert

  • Wow — a 100% chance of 5% output! And you only had to build 4 extra facilities instead of 1.

  • Pingback: CalTech Vertical Axis Wind Turbines Boost Wind Farm Power Efficiency 10x | CleanTechnica: Cleantech innovation news and views

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