Wind Energy Production Levels Hit All-Time High In California

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California’s wind energy production levels recently reached a new all-time high of 4,196 megawatts (MW). The record was achieved on April 7th at 6:44 PM. This is a surge higher than the previous all-time high of 3,944 MW achieved earlier in the year on March 3.

Wing mills West Coast
Image Credit: Wind Energy via Shutterstock

The California Independent System Operator Corporation (ISO), the state’s primary operator for its high-voltage network, released the information in a recent press release covered by Business Wire. The ISO currently serves around 80% of California.

“With these impressive wind production levels, California is well positioned to meet the 33% by 2020 green power goal,” said ISO President and CEO Steve Berberich. “Our control center operators are tracking a steady increase in renewable energy and we are leveraging the latest forecasting technology as well as complementary flexible resources to capture and optimize this carbon-free power supply.”

Currently, there are about 5,899 MW of wind energy capacity installed as part of the ISO grid. The reasons for not hitting max capacity on April 7th are entirely to due to “routine generation and transmission outages.” The high total installed capacity means that California is the second-biggest producing state, with regards to wind energy, second only to Texas. According to the independent system operator ERCOT, which also serves about 80% of its state, Texas currently has 10,407 MW of total installed wind energy capacity. The peak record there was 9,481 MW on February 9, 2013.

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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16 thoughts on “Wind Energy Production Levels Hit All-Time High In California

  • These peaks only underscore the variability and its random relation to actual need. Yesterday, wind on the CAISO system reached an output rate of almost 3,000 MW, but it was at midnight as demand was plummeting towards its wee-hours minimum, while during most of the day the output was close to 0.

    • I think by now we are all aware that wind is variable.

      Most of us are aware that the future grid will deal quite nicely with this variability as well as the fact that the Sun does not shine 24/365.

      Are you aware that all electricity generation is variable and can go offline without warning? And that the grid works in spite of these difficulties?

      • And that ability rather illustrates the superfluity of wind.

        • What does it say about coal and nuclear which, without warning, can go from full on to ‘stop’ in a matter of minutes. And stay offline for months to years?

          I suppose all electricity generation is superfluous if we use your reasoning….

          • As you note, wind can not exist without the redundancy built into the grid, ie, it does not replace anything.

          • As I note, no technology can supply the grid unless redundancy is built in. Your singling out of wind indicates that you either don’t understand how the grid works or you wish to make a case against wind generation. A case which does not hold.

            Wind and natural gas have replaced about one third of coal use in the US. As time goes along NG will be replaced by storage.

          • Wind is unique in that it is nondispatchable, completely unlike “conventional” sources. So obviously, it can not be part of the redundancy supporting other sources but only a beneficiary.

          • Nuclear is not dispatchable. Coal is not dispatchable.

            We are able to operate a grid with nuclear and coal inputs only because we have dispatchable generation and storage available to make up for their inadequacies.

          • Exactly. And unlike wind, nuclear and nondispatchable coal (many coal plants are dispatchable) provide reliable base load. They are (very) far from ideal sources, but wind can not replace those, either.

          • Obviously you’re a bit low on facts. Let’s see if we can give you some….

            There’s a very interesting study just out. The authors took on the question of whether it would be possible to run a real world grid on only wind, solar and storage and do it for a reasonable price. They found that they needed to include a tiny bit (0.1%) of natural gas to keep it affordable.

            A summary of the paper…

            Researchers at University of Delaware used four years of weather and electricity demand/load data in one minute blocks to determine 1) if a combination of wind, solar and storage could meet 99.9% of demand and 2) the most cost effective mix of each to meet demand.

            The data for 1999 through 2002 came from the PJM Interconnection, a large regional grid that services all or part of 13 states from New Jersey west to Illinois, from Pennsylvania south into Tennessee and North Carolina. This is the world’s largest competitive wholesale electricity market, serving 60 million customers, and it represents one-fifth of the United States’ total electric grid.

            They used currently available technology and its projected price in 2030. They included no subsidies for wind and solar in their calculation. They did not include hydro, nuclear, tidal or other possible inputs. They also did not include power sales to and purchases from adjacent grids. They used three existing storage technologies – large scale batteries, hydrogen and GIV (grid integrated vehicles).

            They found that by 2030 we could obtain 99.9% of our electricity from renewable energy/storage and the remainder 0.1% from fossil fuels for about what we currently pay “all-in” for electricity. The all-in price of electricity which includes coal and oil produced health costs currently paid via tax dollars and health insurance premiums.

            During the four year period there were five brief periods, a total of 35 hours, when renewables plus storage were insufficient to fully power the grid and natural gas plants came into play. These were summer days when wind supply was low and demand was high. The cheapest way to cover these ~7 hour events was to use existing natural gas plants rather than to build additional storage. Adding in hydro, tidal, etc. would further reduce this number.

            After 28 billion simulations using differing amount of wind, solar, storage and fossil fuels they found the best solution was to over-build wind and solar and at times simply “throw away” some of the produced power. Building “too much” wind and solar turns out to be cheaper than building more storage given the storage solutions we have at this time. Finding markets for the extra production, selling electricity to offset natural gas heating for example, further reduced costs.

            Budischak, Sewell, Thomson, Mach, Veron, and Kempton Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time Journal of Power Sources 225 (2013) 60-74


            Remember, this is a “worst case” study. Add in hydro, tidal, geothermal, and residual nuclear and the price drops because less storage will be needed. The same happens when there is exchange of power between grids.

            And those 2030 wind and solar prices? The authors used somewhat dated (2010) projections. Current prices have already brought the cost of wind down to their projected 2030 level and solar is already cheaper. We almost certainly will have better/cheaper storage than they used in their study.

            So, yes, we can have a renewable grid that gives us electricity when we want it. And it’s very likely that our electricity will cost less then than it does now.

          • Those aren’t facts. They are theoretical projections, and not very encouraging ones at that, considering the huge land use requirements for large-scale wind and solar.

          • Calculations.

            ” huge land use requirements for large-scale wind and solar.”


          • I’m not an expert but I see no comments about hydroelectric storage. The Castaic Power Plant here in California is an example. Excess wind generated power can be stored using their reversible generators to pump water back up to Pyramid Lake.

          • Storage is a big topic of discussion and a lot of effort is being put into finding the least costly way to store electricity.

            Pump-up hydro is one option but my guess is that we will end up using some sort of large scale battery storage. Batteries are easier to install close to ‘point of use’ which lowers transmission costs, they are easier to site, can be distributed around the grid, and are quicker to install.

            Right now the cost spread between lowest and highest priced electricity is not enough to make new storage a good investment. It’s cheaper to simply curtail/dump extra wind than to store it.

          • Yes, and unfortunately we don’t have millions of US rooftops that can take advantage of the 70% fall in installed PV prices over the last four years. It’s amazing how these pseudo-factoids pop up to protect cherished world views. It’s as though Rip Van Winkle pops up periodically from a cherished dream of the 1970’s.

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