Same Story, Different Study: NREL Western Report Shows 30% Wind Do-able, Cost-Effective

Obtaining 30% of the West’s electricity from wind power is technically feasible and would even reduce overall power system operating costs significantly, a study released this week by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) found.

The study, called the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study (WWSIS), examined several scenarios in which wind energy would provide up to 30% of the electricity for a large part of the Western U.S. The WWSIS is the Western counterpart to the high-profile NREL study, released in January, that examines high wind penetrations in the Eastern Interconnection, which encompasses approximately 70% of the U.S. population.

According to the WWSIS findings, obtaining 35% of the Western region’s electricity from renewable energy is technically achievable, with 30% provided by wind and 5% by solar energy. Adding 30% wind would reduce overall power system operating costs by 40%, saving consumers money and protecting them from fuel price volatility, the study found. Moreover, achieving 30% wind could reduce emissions of carbon dioxide by up to 45%, nitrogen oxides by up to 50%, and sulfur dioxide by 30%.

The WWSIS underscored the importance of transmission, calling it critical in achieving large wind penetrations; however, the study also noted that the cost of the needed transmission is small compared to the benefits of the wind energy that would be brought online.

Unsurprised by the findings given the ever-growing stack of reports making similar conclusions, AWEA said the study is yet further validation that large amounts of wind energy can be reliably integrated into the nation’s electric grid, reducing consumers’ electricity prices as well as emissions of carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

The study highlighted a number of grid operating reforms that would facilitate the integration of wind energy. As indicated by other studies, WWSIS found that such reforms would be cost effective with or without wind power, as they would benefit consumers by making the power system more efficient and reliable. Among the reforms highlighted by the study:

  • balancing area consolidation and/or cooperation (consolidating to five areas in the West could result in as much as $2 billion in savings on spinning reserve costs alone);
  • increasing the use of sub-hourly scheduling for generation and interchanges (this one step alone cuts regulation reserve needs nearly in half);
  • increasing utilization of transmission; and
  • employing state-of-the-art wind and solar forecasts in unit commitment and operations (saving $5 billion under the 30% wind scenario compared to not using forecasts).

This story was originaly published by the American Wind Energy Association in its Wind Energy Weekly and was reprinted with permission.

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Carl is Editor & Publications Manager at the American Wind Energy Association, where has worked since 2006. At AWEA he oversees AWEA's online and print publications including the Wind Energy Weekly, Windpower Update, and other products. He has worked as a journalist in the energy industry as a staff writer for Public Utilities Fortnightly magazine and in the association sector as senior editor at Association Management magazine. He also has covered the home-building industry, where his areas of greatest interest were sustainable development and "smart growth," and has written articles for numerous other publications as a freelance writer. Carl received his B.A. from James Madison University and spent some time in New Orleans teaching as well as working with homeless youth.

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