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New Energy Economics: Electrical Grid Potentially Can Handle 20 Percent Wind Energy

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Cole Gustafson, NDSU Biofuels Economist Cole Gustafson, NDSU Biofuels Economist
The expansion of electrical transmission infrastructure will provide more flexibility to balance load demands, generation potential and geographic diversity.

By Cole Gustafson, Biofuels Economist

NDSU Extension Service

On Jan. 20, 2010, the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) released the results of a 2 1/2 year study that sought to determine if the electrical grid in the eastern half of the country could accommodate up to 20 percent wind energy. In particular, the study assessed the security, stability and reliability of electrical generation at 20 percent wind. The study area included both North and South Dakota, which are part of the eastern interconnect.

The study concluded that the grid potentially could handle up to 20 percent to 30 percent wind energy if there is significant expansion of the transmission infrastructure. Considerable planning for infrastructure expansion will be needed because it takes longer to expand transmission capacity than it does to build new wind plants. Even with a significant investment cost, the overall costs of integration are forecasted to be less than $0.002 per kilowatt hour of electricity used by customers.

The study proceeds to describe several advantages of geographically dispersed wind generation capacity. One of the more important opportunities for high-capacity wind transmission is that it could assist with balancing power supply variability in small areas, primarily urban centers on the East Coast where wind generation is not economically feasible.

Another aspect of the study reviewed our nation’s wind energy potential by both quality and economic dimensions. As previous studies have shown, the Great Plains possess great wind energy development potential. The new NREL study reaffirms this potential, but also finds that wind energy from the Great Plains is even more competitive than previously thought.

For example, the Great Plains offers 7 percent to 9 percent higher capacity factors than onshore wind resources in the East. These high-demand load centers would have lower long-term electrical generation costs if they began to incorporate Great Plains wind energy, even when higher investment costs associated with expanded transmission capacity are included.

Offshore wind generation plants have capacity factors similar to the Great Plains, but total delivered energy costs are higher because even higher capital costs are incurred for new transmission infrastructure.

The study concludes with a lengthy discussion on the variability of wind energy. In summary, the study finds that improved weather forecasting will assist with power management of the grid when wind energy increases. With more advance warning, system operators will be able to energize natural gas or hydroelectric plants as wind energy resources temporarily decline.

Moreover, expansion of transmission infrastructure will provide more flexibility to balance load demands, generation potential and geographic diversity. As geographic boundaries expand, chances are that wind activity will be high at least someplace in the region.


NDSU Agriculture Communication

Source:Cole Gustafson, (701) 231-7096, cole.gustafson@ndsu.edu
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136, richard.mattern@ndsu.edu
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