A new US wind power record was set on April 15, as Colorado winds produced nearly 57 percent of the electricity flowing through Xcel Energy’s transmission lines. Reaching the mark demonstrates that it is indeed possible for U.S. utilities to integrate a lot more in the way of intermittent wind, solar and other renewable power generation into transmission grids and distribution lines.
The record was set in pre-dawn hours. With the dawn Xcel’s coal and natural gas-fired power plants began increasing output, which lowered wind power’s contribution nearer its 2012 average of 17%, CNN Money reported. With some 1.4 million customers, Xcel is Colorado’s biggest electric utility.
Setting a U.S. wind power production record
Long reliant on large-scale fossil fuel-fired power plants that are difficult to power up and down, U.S. utilities, in general, have been reluctant to integrate high percentages of intermittent wind and solar power into their transmission and distribution systems. That’s changing, as advances in technology, state renewable power mandates and government subsidies prod them to incorporate more clean, renewable power sources into their systems.
A majority of U.S. state governments have enacted clean/renewable energy mandates. Colorado has one of the most ambitious Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS) in the nation. It requires that state power providers source 30 percent of the electricity they sell to customers from renewable sources by 2020.
Xcel Energy attributed the new U.S. wind power record to advances in technology, according to CNN Money’s report. Xcel invested in new wind and weather forecasting, wind turbine operating and smart grid automation systems that enable it to incorporate higher percentages of wind and solar power generation into its transmission and distribution grid.
The net result is a networked power generation and distribution system that relies on a mix of fuel resources, one within which wind power is playing a growing role. “The wind is a free fuel resource,” Xcel trading analyst Drake Bartlett told CNN Money. “We want to try to take that as much as possible.”
Incorporating more wind, renewable power into U.S. grids
Xcel’s wind power record demonstrates how the combination of technological advances and government incentives and support is reducing the cost of renewable energy and making it technologically and economically practical for U.S. electric utilities to incorporate higher percentages of clean, renewable power into their transmission and distribution systems.
“It certainly can be replicated, as long as you have a robust, diverse grid,” CNN Money quoted Elizabeth Salerno, head of data and analysis at the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA). “Other folks have some catching up to do.”
The renewable energy resources available in the US varies state by state. Colorado’s a windy state with a lot of sunshine. It’s not the windiest, however. Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas all have stronger winds, according to the US Dept. of Energy National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) national wind resources map, CNN Money points out in its report.
The benefits of integrating greater amounts of wind, solar and other clean, renewable energy resources into electricity transmission and distribution systems are numerous and varied. Prominent among them is job creation and economic stimulus. Then there’s the even longer term and unaccounted for benefits and reduced taxpayer liabilities of reducing the carbon and greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation associated with burning fossil fuels to generate electricity.