The issue of wind turbine downtime can be compensated by hydropower but only with the correct policy and regulations, found researchers at Pennsylvania State University.
At present, wind is the fastest growing renewable energy source in the United States. The United States Department of Energy recently found that the country could produce 20 percent of its electricity from wind by 2030.
But because Americans want low-cost electricity and expect things to continue working without blackouts, full reliance on wind is impossible as there are times when the winds suddenly cease blowing or blows to hard causing operators to shut down the turbines. Researchers at Penn State said that viable options that can back wind energy up are natural gas and hydropower, but because natural gas is not carbon neutral, hydropower is the clear and greener choice.
As part of their case study, the researchers studied the Kerr Dam in North Caroline and found that the power produced from the dam goes into the PJM segment of the electrical grid. The PJM segment includes Pennsylvania through Virginia in the East Coast, west to Indiana and the Chicago area. Due to agreements made before the establishment of the PJM market. The Kerr Dam also supplies other local outlets.
The researchers noted that the Kerr Dam can accommodate the unexpected variations in wind power generators, but the problem is that hydroelectric dams cannot simply release water to meet the demand for electricity when wind energy suffers a downtime. This is because water dams operate using guide curves that are based on a one-week weather forecast and consider factors such as electric production, drinking water needs, irrigation, fish, and wildlife requirements.
To allow hydropower to come in when wind energy falls, the researchers suggest that instead of a guide curve requirement of one week, it should be two weeks. The researchers also determined that if the price of the electricity was changed in such a way that backing up wind is more lucrative, hydropower plants can pledge their electricity to make up for wind energy, instead of selling the excess on the spot market.
The president’s emphasis on renewable energy is “a big winner for Iowa,” said Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center in Chicago. In addition to being a major wind energy producer, Iowa also has become a hub for turbine manufacturing, from spinning blades to nuts and bolts. Opening more public land to wind generation should keep those plants running strong, he said.
“To the extent that the president’s climate action plan moves forward, that’s good for more wind power developments in Iowa, that’s good for job creation, that’s good for economic growth and it’s good for the environment,” Learner said.
Neila Seaman, director of the Sierra Club’s Iowa Chapter, echoed the president’s argument that the plan moves the country as a whole closer to a “clean energy economy,” in which new technologies create new jobs that more than offset those lost in the transition.
“We’re not trying to put anybody out of business,” Seaman said. “We think there will be enough green jobs resulting from this plan today that I’m not sure the critics would have good argument against it.”