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March 22, 2011

Increasing wind capacity requires new approaches to electricity planning and operations

Electric power generation from wind is increasing rapidly in the United States. Wind power is attractive for its lack of emissions and low operating costs, but its intermittency and sudden changes in production create challenges for grid operators and planners. This is particularly true in the regions with the most rapid increases in wind capacity, such as Texas (see chart), the Midwest/Plains States, and the Pacific Northwest.

The increasing penetration of wind capacity creates challenges for the electric power industry. Wind generation is intermittent and can be difficult to predict. Often, wind generation does not coincide with the demand for electric power; wind resources are generally more prevalent overnight, when demand for electric power is at a minimum. In most areas, summer peak demand for electricity coincides with hot afternoons when consumers have turned up their air conditioners – but in many areas, such times are calm and wind resources may be quite low.

Installations of wind generators continue to increase, and with them the challenge of successfully integrating large amounts of intermittent generation while still maintaining the moment-to-moment balance of electricity supply and demand that is essential for stable operation of the power grid. Two subsequent Today in Energy articles will explore how the electric power industry addresses the challenges of intermittent generation. First, how grid operators balance the overall generation mix every day; and second, how electric power system planners incorporate such resources into their resource assessments one year, five years, or ten years into the future.