Originally published by Union of Concerned Scientists, The Equation.
By Joseph Daniel, Senior Energy Analyst
Wind power is already a common source of electricity because it is abundant, clean, reliable, and a low-cost source of electricity. Wind turbines are also flexible. Grid operators can lower (or reduce) the output of wind farms to balance electricity supply and demand.
Grid operators who cut back on wind power have created the myth that wind reduction is caused by an âoversupplyâ of wind. However, a recent analysis shows that the reduction in wind is not caused by an oversupply of wind power. On the contrary, its main causes include insufficient transmission capacity, inflexible operation of coal-fired power plants and lack of battery storage.
As we continue to add more wind resources, grid operators and others must address these gaps in the system. Otherwise, the wind reduction will increase and eventually hamper the transition to a cleaner, more affordable electrical system.
Analysis of the electricity mix during wind power outage events
The Union of Concerned Scientists tasked Synapse Energy Economics to study how the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), the grid operator in the southwest, manages wind reduction. SPP has the highest level of wind adoption as a percentage of total load and is therefore the most likely grid to experience “wind turbocharging” events.
The results were clear: âThere is no wind overproduction in the SPP. “
On the contrary, during all the hours when the wind was reduced, other more expensive and polluting resources were always online. And, because of the marginal cost and higher emission rate of coal resources, electricity customers would be better off if SPP were able to reduce coal instead of wind. Customers could have saved over $ 40 million and almost avoided 1.2 million short tons of carbon emissions per year.
If wind is available burning coal always costs more, so why waste wind when there is a lot of coal to move?
Solutions to wind reduction (n Â° 2 might surprise you)
1: transmission: Sometimes all the wind blows at once. If this happens, the amount of energy produced by the wind turbines can exceed the amount that the transmission system can carry. But the capacity for additional investment in transport to reduce wind reduction is well established. Just take a look at the âCREZâ projects in Texas or the multi-value projects of the Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO). It is wrong to blame the wind reductions caused by transmission constraints on “excess wind supply”. Better to focus on solutions and call it a transmission sub-offer.
2: Coal: You might be surprised to learn that coal has to play a big role in reducing wind reduction. The point is that significant portions of the coal fleet are being mined inflexibly. And it is true that a coal-fired power plant is not as flexible as a wind turbine, but many coal-fired power plants could be shut down or shut down but are not. The reason and intention behind such actions is irrelevant, the effect is a less competitive, less flexible and less clean network that ends up costing consumers billions of dollars.
3: Storage room: Storage seems like an obvious solution to the problem of having more power than you need at any given time. Before refrigeration, if you had too much food, most of it would go wrong. It is the same for electricity. If the supply does not match the demand, it will be wasted. But with storage, you can conserve excess energy and use it for later.
A few caveats
The reason we asked Synapse Energy Economics to focus on SPP was because their data was available, and not because SPP is not doing a commendable job incorporating its record levels of wind adoption. In fact, SPP has done an incredible job of keeping the wind reduction levels low. Wind adoption is higher in SPP than in MISO, but wind reduction is lower in SPP than in MISO. SPP also reports its data in very granular formats, allowing Synapse (and other analysts) to conduct this type of research. MISO, not so much.
Later, when the grid is almost or fully carbon-free, there may be enough wind or solar power on the grid to cause an oversupply of renewable energy, in which case reduction may be a profitable choice. The need to build more transport and storage today does not mean that grid planners should over-build the system to deliver every megawatt hour of wind generation tomorrow. At some point in the future, a certain amount of wind reduction might be optimal in terms of cost (i.e. the additional cost to add storage or transmission may far outweigh the benefits of reduction avoided).
Is a language abuse worth resolving?
You might be saying to yourself, “Okay, so technically there is no excess wind supply per se, but the wind is always reduced. Isn’t reduction the problem we should be focusing on? “
Of course, we should focus on reducing the wind reduction. And we must also recognize that misunderstandings about the causes of reduced wind can prevent effective solutions. There are many reasons for the reduction in wind, but attributing all of this to “excess wind supply” gives the false impression that there is too much wind. In any case, the opposite is true. We need more wind power as part of the clean, affordable and reliable electricity grid of the future.
Ultimately, if you are an analyst or an advocate, using the term “wind oversupply” is problematic.
For now, at current and near-term levels of wind deployment, a significant amount of wind reduction could be avoided by building the transmission to move renewable energy more efficiently through the grid, ending the auto – uneconomic commitment so that coal-fired power plants can be shut down to a greater extent and renewables can shift from grid to load, and building storage to absorb any remaining renewable energy that cannot be immediately used or exported .
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