Texas, a model of wind power’s potential, now is a model of wind power’s pitfalls too.
Minders of the Lone Star State’s electricity grid had to cut power to some offices and factories Wednesday evening when the wind dropped—and with it, electricity produced from the state’s many wind farms. The green juice slowed from 1,700 megawatts to the trickle of 300 megawatts.
”A cold front moved through, and the wind died out,” said Dottie Roark, spokeswoman for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which runs most of the state’s power grid. “That happens.”
Oh, well. Now that wind is big enough to be a real part of Texas’ electricity mix, the state is coming to grips with one of wind power’s biggest problems: the power flows only when the wind blows.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but this glitch for wind power occurred the night before the House voted on a renewable-energy bill – a vote in which the Texas delegation mostly voted against more renewable-energy subsidies.
Nuclear, coal- and gas-fired plants run almost all the time. As efficient as wind turbines have become in recent years, they still need the wind to work. And reliably predicting just when the wind will blow is still tough, despite plenty of fancy technological advances.
Wind usually falls off with rising temperatures. But a sudden gust of cool weather can do the same. The people running the electricity grid need to stay on their toes to throw other forms of power on line when wind falters.
“Renewables are a very intermittent source of electric supply,” says Larry Makovich, managing director at Cambridge Enegy Research Associates, a Boston-based energy consultancy that recently published a bullish report on the prospects for renewable energy. “What you saw in Texas is a very dramatic example as to why that is the case.”
This problem is only going to get bigger for Texas. The state has 4,600 megawatts of wind power. If wind blew all the time, that would be the equivalent of more than three nuclear plants. The state now is considering additional wind farms that could boost that figure ten-fold, say Texas’ grid operators. That is, when there’s a breeze.
Dow Jones Newswires
Posted by Jeffrey Ball
28 February 2008