Wind power on the grid

These comments respond to numerous anti-wind-technology commentators who publish silly remarks on an ongoing basis.  They are taken from this morning’s Burlington Free Press (source URL at bottom):

  • Glenn Thompson writes: ” … Base Load power must always be available to meet demand!”

    1) Not really. Demand for electricity varies constantly and has both seasonal and daily peaks and valleys. It’s the responsibility of grid operators to insure that demand can be met at ALL times. They do that in a wide variety of ways.

    2) The value of any generating plant needs therefore to be understood in the context of the grid as a whole. While wind is undeniably an intermittent resource, it is considerably LESS intermittent over the geographical span covered by US regional grids than at any one installation in any one place. (The literature I’ve read suggests that over these large geographical spans, in fact, wind becomes ALMOST a constant resource, since wind will be blowing in part of the region when it is not blowing elsewhere).

    3) In any case, because many sources of electricity produce varying quantities of power at different times, the system as a whole requires methods to meet demand when demand is high and supply across the grid drops for ANY reason, including for example, a “base load” plant suddenly going off line. This can be and is accomplished in New England by a variety of methods, including stand-by peak power plants (usually gas fired), pumped water storage, etc. Small producers usually do this with battery- backup systems.

    In New England, there has been and continues to be an excess of capacity and power supply at all levels for the next several years. Many experts expect this to continue much longer, though the more distant future is inherently less predictable. In particular, peaking plants already exist in abundance. Building out windmills even at today’s frenetic pace will not create new needs for these, at least not for MANY years.

    Several commenters imply that because these backup plants exist anyway, wind makes no difference. But they miss the key point that when the windmills are running, the backup generators are not. At those times, (which is roughly 30% of the time for any ONE given wind installation), carbon-free, operating-cost-free, and infinitely-renewable wind is replacing fossil fuel resources. Electrical grids require BOTH capacity to produce power AND ongoing power supply.

    4) Finally, it’s obvious that it would be impossible to build a grid powered ONLY by the wind, using today’s technology. No one has been foolish enough to suggest this, however, though many commentators seem to imply that we are heading that way. Wind can and does play a vital, beneficial role in a modern regional grid system.

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