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  • [ March 26, 2013 ]
  • Wind can stand (almost) alone, a groundbreaking study on solving renewable energy’s variability

Iowa’s wind industry leaders learned about a groundbreaking study on renewable energy during today’s Iowa Wind Energy Association conference in Des Moines. The study offers a solution to wind and solar energy intermittence, and breaks the common expectation that utilities must back up renewables with coal or natural gas generators.

The study, published in the Journal of Power Sources, suggests the cleanest, most economical way to meet electricity demands is a huge amount of renewable energy generation with little grid storage. It proposes building a “seemingly excessive” amount of wind and solar generators (two to three times the grid’s actual peak load) across a wide geographic area. Under this model, Midwest utilities could provide 99.5 percent of their electricity from renewables in 2030, at a cost comparable to today’s.

This research is of particular interest for Midwest wind developers, and during today’s conference Cory Budischak, co-author of the study and energy management teacher at Delaware Technical Community College, presented the study’s “solution” to renewable energy’s variability to conference participants.

“For Iowa, the analysis could support efforts to expand the wind industry’s role,” Budischak said.

Budischak and his colleagues used computer models to find the most economical combinations of wind, solar, and storage technologies to meet energy demands. The project team factored in the projected 2030 prices, historical weather data, and how the energy sources could meet the demands of the PJM Interconnection grid (extends from Chicago east to New Jersey).

The analysis found that wind energy alone cold meet the grid’s power needs 90 percent of the time if the wind capacity was over-built to 180 percent of the peak load (around 140 gigawatts for the PJM Interconnection grid). With this scenario, on windy days thousands of megawatts may go to waste, but even on the lowest-performing days enough wind energy would be produced to meet demands.

When solar and storage capacity are added to the mix, renewables could meet 99.9 percent of the power demand. The additional 0.1 percent could be covered by fossil fuel power plants, interruptible rates, or additional storage. The study suggests this system would cost less than the U.S.’s current power system, if health and environmental impacts are accounted for and without subsidies.

For comparison, Iowa currently has about 5 gigawatts of installed wind capacity, and a potential wind resource of 570 gigawatts, according to the Wind Energy Foundation.

For more information on the study, consider these sources:

In Iowa, another view on how to solve wind’s variability, Midwest Energy News.

Cost-minimized combinations of wind power, solar power and electrochemical storage, powering the grid up to 99.9% of the time, Journal of Power Sources.

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