Study Says Wind Can't Stand Alone

By Anna Simet | October 05, 2012

Though I support renewable energy in general, part of being a champion for one sector of the renewable energy industry is pointing out the weaknesses and strengths of each source, including the one I support—biomass. Today, I’m going to post a little about a study I came across on the practicality of using wind as an electric grid’s primary power source.

Produced by the Reason Foundation, the study says that if wind is used to produce more than 10 to 20 percent of a system's electricity, wind power increases operating costs due to the need for expensive storage facilities or continuously-available CO2-emitting backup power generation facilities. Obviously, that’s because the wind doesn’t always blow. Here in North Dakota we often deem wind as a nuisance because it seems like it is always blowing (or roaring, rather), but really, we can go through days of sweltering heat and extreme humidity with not a lick of wind.

In a summary of the report, Reason Foundation says it used a full year's worth of hour-by-hour power grid data from PJM Interconnection, which manages the electrical grid in part of the eastern U.S., to simulate how wind would've supplied the necessary power to customers in 2009. In the end, modeling showed that wind power would have failed to supply all of the electricity the utility’s customers needed over 50 percent of the time.

The study concludes that given the costs involved, the practical upper limit for wind power's contribution to an electricity grid is 10 percent of the total energy, which would produce a 9 percent reduction in CO2 emissions.

While there are plenty of places that wind surely works, this is an example of its weakness overcoming its strengths. As our industry knows, biomass power excels in this area—reliability—as it is base load, 24/7 power that doesn’t rely on the weather to perform. And reliability is something power utilities—and their customers—need and want.