When a hard wind blows across Denmark’s green plains, Anders Eldrup, chief executive of the power company DONG, shudders. Not because of the bone-chilling cold, but because his company’s power grid is under enormous strain.
On windy days, some 30-50% of the electricity flowing into the grid comes from wind turbines that dot the countryside. At less windy times, turbines spin more slowly and send much less electricity through the grid. The grid infrastructure wasn’t designed for such fluctuations. What’s more, windy days bring in more electricity than DONG can profitably sell.
It’s a problem of success. A decade of Denmark’s generous subsidies to wind power producers has produced striking results: Some 16% of the country’s total electricity needs come from wind. Denmark’s government wants to be getting 30% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. “It’s an increasingly difficult challenge for us,” said Mr. Eldrup in an interview on the sidelines of an ongoing Carbon Market Insights conference taking place this week in Copenhagen.
As more countries try to boost their use of wind energy, other utilities could face similar issues. In the U.S., states like Texas, where wind energy has boomed, have struggled with technical issues on the grid and might be able to learn from watching Mr. Eldrup’s firm, the CEO said.
DONG is improving its electrical grids connections to neighboring countries like Sweden, Germany, the Netherlands, and Norway so they can absorb excess capacity. And it’s trying to revamp its coal and natural gas-fired power plants to work more smoothly with wind power. “We have to make our traditional fossil fuel plants more flexible,” he said. “That way we can turn power plants down, or even off, when the wind is blowing.”
“In the old times, wind power was just something we layered on top of our regular production. In the future, wind will provide a big chunk of our baseload production.”
Despite the difficulties, Mr. Eldrup’s commitment isn’t wavering. “We need to change the traditional way we produce energy because of the threat posed by global warming. And somehow we have to find a way to make money while we are doing this. After all, I run a business.”
11 March 2008
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