A new record for the penetration of wind energy was set by grid manager Southwest Power Pool in the central United States, with 52.1% of the total load being served by wind power at 4:30 a.m. on February 12.
Southwest Power Pool (SPP) is a regional transmission organization that operates in the central United States, and is responsible for 60,000 miles of high-voltage transmission lines spanning 14 states. SPP’s footprint spans almost 550,000 square miles, from the Canadian border in Montana and North Dakota through to parts of New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana. On Monday, SPP revealed that it had set a new wind-penetration record — the measure of the amount of total electricity load served by wind at a given time — on 4:30 a.m., February 12, of 52.1%. This is not just a record for SPP, but for all the US, and is the first time any regional transmission organization has served more than 50% of its load with wind energy (the previous record was 49.2%, also set by SPP, back on April 24, 2016).
The total amount of wind generating capacity available to SPP has increased dramatically over the last 15 years. In the early 2000s, SPP only had access to less than 400 megawatts (MW), but now has more than 16 gigawatts (GW) — thanks to 4 GW installed during 2016. SPP’s maximum simultaneous wind generation peak subsequently rose from 9,948 MW in 2015 to 12,336 MW in early 2016.
“Ten years ago, we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability,” explained SPP Vice President of Operations Bruce Rew. “Since then, we’ve gained experience and implemented new policies and procedures. Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent wind penetration. It’s not even our ceiling. We continue to study even higher levels of renewable, variable generation as part of our plans to maintain a reliable and economic grid of the future.”
SPP’s broad network is also testament to the future of how wind can work, allowing network operators the opportunity to draw wind-generated electricity from disparate areas of the country.
“We’re able to manage wind generation more effectively than other, smaller systems can because we’ve got a huge pool of resources to draw from,” Rew said. “With a footprint as broad as ours, even if the wind stops blowing in the upper Great Plains, we can deploy resources waiting in the Midwest and Southwest to make up any sudden deficits.”