We recently updated a very useful brochure (online interactive version) on the Pacific Northwest's power supply, and it really brought home just how fast wind power has grown in the last five years. Here are the numbers:
- In 2006, there were 15 wind facilities with 1,588 megawatts of capacity,* contributing 2.3 percent to the region's capacity supply
- In 2011, there are 41 generating 5,583 megawatts of capacity supplying nearly 10 percent of total supply
That's a lot of new wind power developed in a short timeframe, which has created both opportunities and challenges. Just last month, the Bonneville Power Administration reported that wind generation on its system had passed a new milestone on February 22, reaching an all-time peak of 3,006 megawatts--that's enough electricity to serve a city three times the size of Seattle. In just the last two years alone, more than 1,500 megawatts have been added.
So what does the future hold? Will wind continue to grow at this pace? Will other resources emerge, continuing to diversify our supply portfolio? Here are some thoughts from the Council's Ken Dragoon, senior resource analyst.
"We'll soon reach the 6,000 megawatts of wind generation that the wind integration forum identified in 2007, so it's time to look at how to prepare for the next 6,000."
According to Dragoon, work is underway on a number of fronts, like shorter operating periods, reducing barriers to intra-hour scheduling, and mechanisms that will allow utilities to access both generation and load flexibility, making it easier for operators to balance supply and demand and help integrate variable resources like wind.
FERC released a notice of proposed rulemaking that included using 15-minute operating periods as a tool to balance generation and load more accurately, reducing the amount of energy operators would need to keep in reserve. "It could reduce reserve requirements by about 20 percent," says Dragoon.
In another example of efforts to achieve greater system efficiencies, both WECC and the Southwest Power Pool have made progress on establishing more fluid, open markets that give participants real-time prices and dispatch signals, improving access to flexibility in existing generation around the region.
WECC has developed what it calls the efficient dispatch toolkit, which it's continuing to analyze. As for the SWPP's voluntary market, initial reviews of it have been quite positive. "It appears to have saved them a lot of money," notes Dragoon.
In the Northwest, the Bonneville Power Administration has funded a grant to look at using electric waters heaters to provide balancing services. The idea is that during short periods of over supply (when wind generation rapidly increases), the unscheduled power can go to heat water. The Milton-Freewater area has used the storage capability in water and space heaters to limit peak loads since 1985.
"Right now, we're set to test 40 water heaters with new high-tech controls in the service territories of Cowlitz PUD, the Eugene Water and Electric Board, and Lower Valley Electric Cooperative," says Dragoon. The project should be up and running sometime this June.
The over supply issue is thorny since the two obvious options after displacing fossil-fueled power plants--spilling water or curtailing wind--have downsides. Too much spill can harm fish and taking wind offline hurts the bottom line for wind operators. The Bonneville Power Administration had proposed a plan to curtail wind generation during periods of over supply, but recently put implementing it on hold to review stakeholder comments.
Still, Dragoon, who has extensive experience with renewable resources like wind, believes it's not an insurmountable obstacle. "Bonneville lacks the institutional mechanisms to deal with limiting wind generation, but its proposal is very controversial," he says. "Ultimately, the region needs to have straightforward protocols spelled out in advance."
The Council's analysis on the issue describes the challenges and outlines some possible solutions.
In the meantime, the wind integration forum will be reconvening this summer. The task at hand: How do we get to the next phase in wind's development? Some of the big picture items on their agenda will be:
- a review of development since 2003; environmental and economic consequences
- what actions need to happen next
- review transmission needs
At the national level, a 2008 Department of Energy study explored the feasibility of using wind energy to generate 20 percent of the United States' electricity demand by 2030, outlining a road map to expand this renewable resource and lower carbon emissions.
Dragoon hopes the region will start thinking bigger about renewable energy. "There's a lot going on to just make the system work, but it's time to begin thinking more broadly about how to optimally design and operate our system when a significant portion of our energy comes from new renewable resources."
*The maximum amount of power that a power plant can produce at specified times under specified conditions. One average megawatt can power about 700 homes for a year.