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Wind power a ‘dud’ during last week’s heat wave

Wind-powered generation failed to significantly contribute toward meeting last week’s demand peaks caused by a heat wave that hovered over the Midwest and Eastern United States. This is because the high-pressure dome that settled over half of the country reduced wind velocity during afternoon peak hours. Critics of renewable energy’s intermittency pointed to this problem during the 2010 Texas heat wave and last winter’s deep freeze in the United Kingdom.

Renewable energy websites are usually quick to praise new commercial turbine farms brought on line and increased output from wind generation, but as a whole these digital sources included little or no reference to performance during the weeklong, record-setting heat wave.

Brighterenergy.org did, however, carry this headline: “Heat wave hits U.S. as wind power potential soars.” The thrust of the article was speculation about the Cape Wind Project in Nantucket Sound. Had this still controversial 130-turbine facility been constructed and in operation, “about 75 percent of the electricity demand of Cape Cod and the islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket” would have been met.

“In 2007, Cape Wind published a report entitled, Comparison of Cape Wind Scientific Data Tower Wind Speed Data with ISO New England List of Top Ten Electric Demand Days, which found a strong correlation between hot summer days, record electric demand and strong afternoon winds offshore, often due to the sea breeze effect,” the website reported.

But this didn’t help when New England temperatures soared last week. Neither were commercial wind farms in Texas and the Great Plains able to brag about helping keep air conditioners in operation.

The Austin American Statesmen did have this article on July 20: “For much of the past decade, Austin has relied mostly on wind from West Texas to achieve renewable-energy goals, even as city officials warned that it mostly blows at night, when people need electricity the least. Now Austin Energy officials say they are close to a deal to buy more wind that would overcome that shortcoming. The city-owned utility is close to inking a pair of contracts to pay about $50 million a year – the final amount is still under negotiation – for electricity generated by two companies building large-scale wind farms along the Texas coast. Wind there tends to blow mostly during the afternoon and early evening, when the city needs it most, even in summer, according to utility officials examining the offer.”

The heat wave also affected Canadian provinces and their wind power assets. According to media reports, Ontario’s 1,200 megawatts (MW) of total wind capacity were crippled by the high-pressure system of heat and humidity.

“All those turbines dotting Ontario’s landscape have been a dud in this weather,” said Toronto CTV News reporter Paul Bliss during a July 19 broadcast, further noting that wind generation met only six MW of the province’s peak of 23,000 MW.