Winter 2012-2013

Dialogue | Can we continue to have reliable electricity if we produce more wind power, since the wind does not always blow?

Integrating wind power into the electricity grid does pose a challenge to grid operators who are used to the more consistent output of conventional power plants. But grid operators already have to adjust the output of othergenerating sources, including fossil fuels and hydropower, to match constantly changing electricity demand and ensure that backup facilities are available to provide power in the event of plant outages, transmission interruptions, and other unexpected events. Although the integration process can modestly increase costs, wind’s “fuel” is free; thus, wind power can actually reduce electricity prices by displacing power sources with higher operating costs.

Wind provided only about 3.3 percent of U.S. electricity in 2011 (more than triple its contribution just five years ago), but it has reached much higher levels in some states—with no adverse impact on reliability. For example, wind comprises more than 20 percent of the electricity mix in Iowa and South Dakota, and more than 10 percent in Minnesota, North Dakota, and Wyoming. 

A landmark federal study released in July shows that wind and solar power could supply about half of our electricity in 2050, while meeting around-the-clock demand in every region of the country. This would require new transmission lines and other changes to improve flexibility, but scheduling and forecasting tools are continuing to improve, allowing grid operators to plan more accurately for increased wind power.


Also in this issue of Earthwise:

Close to Home

The Truth About Organic Food