Texas Lassos One Third of Electricity from Wind

April 2, 2014


Brian Merchant in Motherboard:

On Wednesday, March 27th, the largest state in the contiguous United States got almost one-third of its electricity by harnessing the wind. According to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which manages the bulk of the Lone Star State’s power grid, a record-breaking 10,296 MW of electricity was whipped up by wind turbines. That’s enough to provide 29 percent of the state’s power, and to keep the lights on in over 5 million homes.

ERCOT notes in a statement issued today that “The new record beats the previous record set earlier this month by more than 600 MW, and the American Wind Energy Association reports it was a record for any US power system.”

The landmark is further evidence of one of the nation’s unlikeliest energy success stories. Conservative politicians have a renownedaversion to clean energy (thoughRepublican voters favor it overwhelmingly), and Texas is still deep red. Yet wind farms are cropping up in there faster than almost anywhere else. ERCOT points out as much, as it boasts of the sector’s recent growth:

Texas continues to have more wind power capacity than any other state. The ERCOT region has more than 11,000 MW of commercial wind power capacity, with nearly 8,000 MW of new projects in development and more than 26,700 MW under study.  Wind power comprised 9.9 percent of the total energy used in the ERCOT region in 2013, compared to 9.2 percent in 2012.

Texas has more wind power than any other state, by a huge margin. And it keepsblowing through these major milestones just about every year. There was some trepidation that Texas’s wind industry would slow as fracking rose in prominence and a key tax credit faced expiration, but hallmarks like this underline some very strong fundamentals. Wind power is ideal for Texas, where there’s a lot of open land, a lot of breezy plains—and a rising demand for electricity, as the state’s population continues to grow.

So the wind boom has carried on. After new power lines are installed to better route the power from rural areas to more populated cities, Texas will be the 5th-largest wind power producer in the world. Most importantly, perhaps, is that there’s now a thriving industry with real economic and political power—citizens and politicians alike appreciate, work, and profit from the wind sector, so they’ll be more willing to fight for it.

Clean energy has become an institution in the most un-hippie state in the country, and there’s reason to believe it will not only stay that way—but continue its trajectory and even pass on its influence to the rest of the nation. If Texas can get a third of its energy from the wind, why not Kansas, Wyoming, Alaska? With installation and generation continuing apace, and promising new high-flying technologies rolling out, the future of wind power is looking stronger than ever.

As good as the Texas story is, the Longhorns have a long way to go to match the Greenhorns in Denmark.

Motherboard again:

Here’s another feather in Denmark’s green cap. The national nonprofit that supplies the nation’s electricity and natural gas, Energinet, reported that wind power supplied a record 54.8 percent of the country’s electricity in the month of December. During the Christmas week, when electricity demand is historically lower due to holiday business closures, wind power provided a whopping 68.5 percent of Denmark’s electricity.

On the best day of the month, December 21, wind power generated 102 percent of electricity demand—more energy was generated than needed. In fact, for one hour on December 1, wind power produced over 30 percent more electricity than was needed.

The record-setting month follows a banner year for wind power in Denmark. Wind generated 11.1 billion kWh of electricity in 2013, from an installed capacity of just under 4.8 gigawatts, representing 33.2 percent of electricity consumption for the year. Last year, Denmark installed an additional 600 megawatts of wind power capacity. It also represents the serious commitment to renewable energy by the government, which has established a target of 50 percent of all electricity coming from wind power by 2020.


47 Responses to “Texas Lassos One Third of Electricity from Wind”

  1. altair04 whines at me (comment-page-1/#comment-55088):

    2c) E-P says he has a link to a wind farm that experienced a two week downtime, but of course he can’t be bothered to actually post it.

    I bookmark these things left and right, but with my hundreds of bookmarks they are nearly impossible to search by eye as link names often omit the attributes of interest.  I was using TagSieve to pull mere buckets out of the ocean, but some weeks ago it failed with this error message:

    XML Parsing Error: undefined entity
    Location: chrome://bookmarktags/content/tagBrowserSidebar.xul
    Line Number 340, Column 7: <treecol id="visit_date"

    I have been unable to find out what's wrong or get a message back to the developers.  Any hints or suggestions are welcome.

    That said, it is sometimes possible to find these things again using conventional search engines.  After a considerable amount of digging, I managed the feat.  Here is documentation of a 2-week-long, near-total wind outage at the Bonneville Power Administration just this year.  Other commenters have reported “wind droughts” as long as 6 weeks for windy sites in Minnesota, sadly without a link to the data or to a personal blog for followup.

    1a) Jason is completely correct about all generation needing back-up.

    Half-truth.  Only “renewables” need 100% reserves.

    *Every* source of generation can fail on occasion

    Half-truth.  Only “renewables” have such widespread, coordinated outages.  The BPA data are not for individual turbines or farms, they are for the entire zone.

    The grid doesn’t need to be reorganized because wind is *unusual* in any way, but only because it wasn’t originally designed to support the nature of its output.

    False.  The type and scale of transmission required by the all-RE scenarios is completely unprecedented.  It includes hundreds of gigawatts of transmission from the Texas-to-Dakotas “wind belt” to the coasts, and the sun-drenched Southwest to points north and east.  This also belies the “local and democratic” claims for RE.

    rapid variability isn’t really that much of a problem

    False.  Texas has had to cut service to customers when the wind fell off unexpectedly.  Note that this was (a) 6 years ago, when wind was a much smaller fraction of Texas’ generation, and (b) did not involve any sort of failure in either generation or transmission.

    E-P wants you to believe that variability equals unreliability

    If power is not there when you need it, it’s unreliable.  You cannot rely on it.  This goes back to the difference between flows and reservoirs.

    Jason is completely right again to point out that while a single turbine is highly variable, a whole fleet of them is not.

    False.  Go back to the Texas incident, and the BPA graphs at the above link.

    How common was this event?

    What are the damages from such an event, if you’re relying on that energy?  RE advocates like to spread fear about high-impact events (and exaggerate the impacts) even if they have low probability.  In an all-RE Pacific northwest, the BPA “wind drought” would have had devasating consequences.  Less-extreme but persistent deficits are far more frequent than total outages, but would also have heavy impacts.

    When the wind was down, how did solar generation perform?

    Hint:  it was January.

    is there any real difference in outcome between this event and what happens when a nuclear power plant blows a gasket and suffers two weeks of unscheduled downtime?

    Absolutely there is, because there is no common trigger blowing gaskets at other nuclear plants at the same time.  Uranium does not just decide not to blow that day.  Nuclear plants were one of the rock-solid energy supplies during the recent “polar vortex” cold snap.

    If variability really is the problem with wind, then what’s needed to back it up is something … like biofueled peaker plants

    Do you have any idea how small, and how over-subscribed, the feasible biomass harvest is?  (See www1 eere energy gov/bioenergy/pdfs/final_billionton_vision_report2.pdf, which is an optimistic projection of the total available biomass residues for motor fuels, bio-materials AND electric generation, and suggests major ecological impacts as conservation easements are converted to biomass crops.)

    What doesn’t work well in such cases are large, unrampable baseload generators like coal or nuclear.

    You’ve made such a fetish of variability that you are now declaring reliability to be a liability!  (Nuclear heat is carbon-free and so cheap that plants can be designed to load-follow by simply dumping excess steam to the condensers.  I understand that this is a feature on the newer CANDU units.)

    everything I have read so far tends to show that wind power is not a cause, but rather a solution to the problems of variability and downtime.

    <shaking my head>  This utter refusal to so much as think about contrary facts is what has convinced me that “renewability” is becoming less a consideration for the environment than a religious doctrine.

    To him wind just *has* to be not *quite* good enough

    You don’t understand because your doctrine prevents you from acknowledging the difference between a flow and a reservoir.  You cannot resolve the cognitive dissonance, so you block it out.  Nature does not allow such luxuries, and punishes denial ruthlessly.  I’d leave you to your punishment, but don’t wish to share it.

    • MorinMoss Says:

      I trust you’re capable of appreciating the irony of posting a link about the unreliability of wind power when the final paragraph is this:

      “Earlier on Tuesday, grid problems led to a blackout in Florida that cut power to about 1 million electric customers across that state for as much as four hours.”

      • I’m not sure what your point is supposed to be.

        You are aware that there’s no way to get e.g. Texas wind power to Florida without a massive expansion of the grid?  Failures in the grid will have much bigger effects in the all-RE scenarios than they do today.

        • MorinMoss Says:

          A expansion & improvement of the grid is long overdue and rooftop solar will play a part in reducing the impact of daytime power failures.
          And let’s all hope for cheap storage.

          I find it interesting that you posted about a minor power event in Texas, supposedly attributable to wind’s fickleness while completely ignoring a major event in Florida ON THE SAME DAY, in which NUCLEAR plants, though not the primary cause, played a significant role in worsening the problem, where over 2.5 million customers were without power.

          I’m sure they would rather have solar on their roof than pay for another nuclear plant.


          As for the Texas wind non-event, a very small amount of time spent searching for real info would have quickly lead you to this report:

          Click to access 43373.pdf

          I trust you’ll find it instructive, should you choose to read it.

          • rooftop solar will play a part in reducing the impact of daytime power failures.

            Not if it’s only grid-tied, it won’t.  Grid-tie systems shut down when the grid is lost.  You’d need a micro-grid with some means of balancing load with supply to stay up when grid power was lost.  That requires either storage or a fair amount in the way of intelligent control, which isn’t exactly widespread at the moment.

            I find it interesting that you posted about a minor power event in Texas, supposedly attributable to wind’s fickleness

            It wasn’t “supposedly”; the 1400 MW drop in wind output was a substantial fraction of the 4400 MW increase in demand, increasing the total non-RE generation required to 5800 MW.  ERCOT reports wind generation as high as 9000 MW for 4/16, so there is a lot more potential for drops in output to be felt by consumers.

            while completely ignoring a major event in Florida ON THE SAME DAY, in which NUCLEAR plants, though not the primary cause, played a significant role in worsening the problem, where over 2.5 million customers were without power.

            I read the whole thing and dug through the NRC site as well, and found nothing to support your claim.  Turkey Point wasn’t the problem at all; it lost offsite power, SCRAMmed because of loss of load, and had to stay off-line long enough to get out of the “iodine pit” (waiting for Xe-135, which is consumed by neutron capture in an operating reactor, to decay away enough to allow a normal restart).

            If there’s a problem with that, it’s at the NRC.  I’ve seen reactor operators at Atomic Insights grousing about their units’ ability to restart promptly before Xe-135 builds up or even stay up during loss of load (using an autotransformer to feed house loads), but NRC rules now prohibit that.  More I don’t know, you can probably find the posters from the AI threads and ask them directly.  They may well point you to the relevant NRC regs.

            I’m sure they would rather have solar on their roof than pay for another nuclear plant.

            And just how well would solar on their roof have served them during this year’s anomalous cold, especially at night?  Maybe nuclear has virtues after all?

            a very small amount of time spent searching for real info would have quickly lead you to this report

            Note that the LaaR response (1200 MW) was approximately equal to the 1400 MW drop in wind power (1700 MW down to 300).

            Now consider what would happen with 9000 MW of wind dropping off at a proportionate rate, and that this is certain to happen sometime.

  2. […] 2014/04/02: PSinclair: Texas Lassos One Third of Electricity from Wind […]

  3. Reactive power, grid stability?
    Germany and other European countries have been relying on reactive support from DG systems for quite a while.
    Because VAR support comes from utility generators that are located far from load, distributed generation (DG) provides the potential for a new way to provide VAR support – by using the inverters on solar arrays connected to distribution circuits to help create a more balanced and reliable grid.
    This increases DG worth. Many other generation sources lack this ability or find it expensive to deliver. Not so DG inverters.
    It seems like a win-win situation, no?

    Interestingly however, the ability of DG systems to provide VAR support has largely been ignored in the U.S., generally because any policy action has been too complex to implement. That may be starting to change, with three recent and somewhat noteworthy policy developments.
    Far from an impediment to DG, it is instead an important way to increase its worth by leveraging its natural ability to provide power services economically, including grid stability and reactive power. This already accomplished in Germany, but the policy action to implement it is just beginning in places like California.


    • the ability of DG systems to provide VAR support has largely been ignored in the U.S., generally because any policy action has been too complex to implement.

      It’s easiest to implement system policies before rolling out major parts.  Ask anyone who’s ever overseen a software project.

      This already accomplished in Germany, but the policy action to implement it is just beginning in places like California.

      The article you link is worth quoting:

      the Planning Committee for PJM… gave near unanimous approval to a problem statement and issue charge

      Note, this is not a regulation or even a RFC.  It’s the very beginnings of studying the problem.

      to explore whether to require renewables such as solar PV to install enhanced or “smart” inverters that can produce and absorb reactive power in addition to inverting DC power to AC.

      Not to do it, but to EXPLORE WHETHER TO DO IT.

      However, any smart inverter requirement is not likely to come about until PJM goes through the approval process to revise IEEE 1547 Standard for Interconnecting Distributed Resources with Electric Power Systems.

      In other words, before this can be done there needs to be a standard for data communications with the ISO, inverters on the market which are certified to communicate and respond per the standard (which itself requires a certification authority and system, with standards for testing and the whole 9 yards) and ONLY THEN is it possible to require PV owners to install these VAR-friendly inverter systems.

      All of this is painfully obvious to anyone with as little as an undergraduate familiarity with power transmission systems (I have some experience at the smart-meter provider level).  It should have been foreseen and taken care of years ago, but the response is just now beginning.  That tells me that the people in charge of these schemes have no clue about electric power generation and delivery, and will only care when something threatens blackouts.

      Let me tell you something that would make PV a whole lot more grid-friendly and a real carbon-fighter:  require them to use (or contract with) storage or DSM to provide generation-levelling on the scale of 6 hours.  The DSM and/or storage should be able to operate as spinning reserve, ideally responding to trips in transmission lines or other plants within 2 cycles.

      It’s hard to describe just how much this would make the grid better.  If you have, say, 5 GW of power going into storage, that is 5 GW of spinning reserve that does not come from a carbon-emitting machine.  If you have 30 minutes of storage reserves, you have plenty of time to start backup gas turbines which require 15 minutes to heat up and go on-line; those turbines can be left cold until needed, burning no fuel.  If you store a large fraction of the noon-centered generation bump (that doesn’t go directly into e.g. ice storage A/C) and trickle it out over the next several hours, the “duck belly” problem disappears.

      All you’d need for this is some sort of relatively cheap storage that is good for a few hours and doesn’t degrade with cycling.  Say, flywheels with up to 2% losses per hour.  You just run them down to a dead stop sometime in the late evening and let them sit until the next morning.  If you manage it right, your EV fleet provides a substantial part of your overnight spinning reserve needs (also without burning fuel).

      I don’t see any vision for doing this.  Without such a vision, it won’t get done.

  4. The California state water project consumes 2 to 3 % of the states electricity. Central Valley well pumping, more.

  5. […] Hence when a UKIP government finds the energy industry still wants to build wind farms (about a third of the electricity in republican Texas now comes from wind) or indeed the industry spooked by uncertainty stops all infrastructure improvements, forcing a […]

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