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.


3 Responses

  1. Josh Schlossberg



    What this article fails to mention--and what I don't recall seeing in a single article in Biomass Magazine--is how a "clean energy" economy can never work without cutting back on energy consumption. We can cut down every tree in the world and have every mountain bristling with wind turbines and we're still not going to replace the energy currently generated from dense fossil fuels. Since fossil fuels are on their way out--peak oil--and industrial scale biomass energy is far too polluting and resource intensive to expand, the only solution is "destruction of demand." Which can only come about through conservation, efficiency and--most importantly--lifestyle change. If Biomass Magazine wanted to convince people that it was anything but advertising for the Biomass Industry, you'd run an article on the topic of lifestyle change.

  2. Anna Simet



    Hi Josh, thanks for reading my blog and providing me with your perspective. Something I'd like to point out is that when I say biomass, I don't just mean wood-to-energy, I mean anerobic digestion/biogas, landfill gas, gasification of MSW, torrefaction, pyrolysis, etc. I find that's a very common misperception. I, too, embrace the idea of lifestyle changes--it would be wonderful if we could reduce energy consumption that way. Sadly, in our world today (growing population, more gadgets,etc.) I don't think it's realistic (but that is only my opinion). Efficiency, however, is different. And living here in North Dakota--the forefront of oil country--it is clear that fossil fuels are not going anywhere any time soon. Last, thanks for the recommendation on the article topic. As much as I would like to write an article on lifestyle changes for Biomass Magazine, we are a trade journal dedicated to this specific industry segment, you are correct.

  3. Michael Goggin



    If you read the Reason Foundation's report, it actually says that wind energy can provide a large share of our electricity (at least 50%) and that wind's benefits are roughly as large as expected (9% reductions in pollution when we get 10% of our electricity from wind, 18% reductions at 20% wind, and 54% reductions at 50% wind). That's even after the report uses a seriously flawed methodology that overstates the challenges of integrating wind onto the grid and understates wind's benefits. For more, read the explanation here: Michael Goggin, American Wind Energy Association


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