Industry Leaders Explore 20% Wind Penetration Scenario

The wind power industry can deliver on its soon-to-be unveiled vision for 20% wind penetration by 2030, but it’s going to take sound policy, an inflow of plenty of talent into the industry, a lot of consensus building, and getting the word out like the industry has never done before, said panelists at the opening session of the AWEA 2007 Wind Energy Fall Symposium in Carlsbad, California.

Currently, said Clipper Windpower Senior Vice President of Commercial Operations Bob Gates, who is AWEA’s board president, “The rules and the structures don’t allow for [20% wind].” But, he said, “One of the things we get to do is change those structures.”

As for specific structures that inherently pose challenges, Horizon Wind Energy Chief Development Officer Michael Skelly pointed out that the current power grid largely grew out of a system of local utilities building to serve local demand, with little broad-scale planning — something that wind will need in order to achieve its potential. In the absence of federal planning, said Skelly, “The way we are going to get there is by articulating it and then getting consensus.”

Xcel Energy Utilities Group President Paul Bonavia offered a utility perspective on 20% wind, fully embracing the vision. “We’re committed to making it happen, and we believe it needs to occur,” he said. Bonavia cited several issues that should be addressed in order for wind to provide 20% of the nation’s electricity needs. Among them: larger geographical control areas to allow for more diversity of load and more generation resources, better forecasting, continued improvements in technology, and development of current transmission infrastructure.

AWEA Policy Director Rob Gramlich provided a glimpse of the 20% vision technical report that is due to come out soon. The vision, which Gramlich emphasized assumes “stable and long-term policy,” calls for a ramp-up in deployment of wind power capacity form the current 3,000-4,000 megawatts (MW) annually to 16,000 MW per year at peak. Gramlich also showed the conceptual map developed by American Electric Power of a grid that can efficiently accommodate 20% wind (as well as benefit all of the electric industry). The map calls for up to 15,000 miles of new transmission lines.

Wind penetration of 20% will have tremendous economic benefits, Gramlich reported. It would reduce total U.S. natural gas demand by 11% and save $128 billion in net present value through 2030. Moreover, with much of new natural gas capacity needing to come from overseas (in the form of liquefied natural gas), “There’s an energy security story here,” said Gramlich. Along those lines, several panelists said that going forward, it is absolutely imperative to get the wind and renewables message out to the general public as a whole — a public that will continue to be increasingly receptive to that message, said Gates.

Getting to 20% penetration by 2030, of course, means taking action now, and so AWEA Executive Director Randall Swisher outlined AWEA’s five-year action plan, which was developed with the 20% vision in mind. The six primary barriers that the industry will need to tackle, according to the five-year plan, include the need for long-term and stable policy support, transmission, siting policies that will allow for 15,000 MW a year to be installed, wind’s variability, value chain constraints associated with the rapid ramp-up, and wind’s ability to compete on cost.

This article first appeared in Wind Energy Weekly, and was republished with permission from the American Wind Energy Association. 

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