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US Wind Generation Sets New Records throughout 2016

Jesse Broehl — December 7, 2016

TurbineThe past decade of steady wind plant commissioning throughout the United States is paying dividends, with new records being achieved on the proportion of electricity demand sourced by wind. The Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the grid operator for the state, recently announced it had hit an all-time record of wind output on November 27, with 15,033 MW of wind online just after noon that day. This represented around 45% of total electricity demand in the state, with over 24 million residents served by the ERCOT grid. The portion of load served by wind that day ranged from about 35% to more than 46%, averaging nearly 41% throughout the day. The previous wind generation output record of 14,122 MW was set on November 17, 2016. The current record for percentage of load served—48.28%—was set on March 23, 2016, at 1:10 a.m.

On an overall annual basis, in 2015, wind generation provided 11.7% of the energy used in the ERCOT region. As of the end of October, wind had served 14.7% of the region’s energy needs so far in 2016. With over 18,531 MW installed, Texas has more wind capacity online than any other state. This is largely thanks to a combination of high energy demand, strong wind resources, a permissive permitting environment, and major proactive state-based investments in transmission. In fact, Texas has so much wind on its system that electricity retailers are offering plans to consumers that include free electricity at night.

Across the Country

Texas isn’t the only state breaking records for wind capacity. The American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) has surveyed other grid operators and compiled other noteworthy examples of wind providing substantial proportions of electricity demand. North of ERCOT, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) also benefits from similarly strong wind resources and abundant land for wind farms and easy permitting. On the same day ERCOT surpassed 15,000 MW, the SPP grid surpassed 11,300 MW, also representing a similar proportion of 48% electricity demand.

In the Midwest Independent System Operator (MISO) market, wind reached 25% of demand in late 2012. This is a large market, and its historic peak load for all generation was 126,337 MW in July of 2011. In the Northwest corner of the country, the Bonneville Power Administration says the record for wind capacity as a percentage of total demand peaked at 42.7% with 4,594 MW. Colorado saw wind supply 66.4% of total generation in the state, with 2,352 MW on the system.

New Projects, New Records

These daily records will continue to be surpassed as developers continue to commission wind projects. These records also underline that wind is making a very meaningful impact on the US electricity grid and that massive amounts of wind can be reliably integrated at very low cost. Wind energy output can be easily accommodated because changes in weather and wind speeds occur gradually and can be forecast by grid operators. Major flexibility is built into the power system to accommodate large and abrupt swings in electricity supply and demand. Some additional power generation reserves are needed to balance additional wind on the system, but studies by ERCOT have shown the cost to be around $0.04 per electric bill and 4% of total generation reserve costs.

More than a dozen wind integration studies by US grid operators and others have found that wind energy can reliably supply at least 20%-30% of the nation’s electricity, with some studies analyzing wind providing 40% of total electricity on an annual basis. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s Renewable Energy Futures study found no reliability problems for a case in which wind and solar provide nearly 50% of total electricity. If the recent records are any indication, these levels are a real possibility in the future.

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