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Wind Power Fails Test During California Heat Wave

The next time somebody tells you that we can replace nuclear energy with renewables, you might want to pass along this article from Energy Pulse by David Dixon of the Department of Energy. He took a look at the performance of California's 2,500 MWe of wind capacity during this Summer's heat wave.

The results? Well, I'll let Dixon tell you himself:
So what happened in California during the mid-July heat storm when that electric grid was put to the test, and California avoided rolling blackouts amid a Level 1 Emergency in which Californian’s were asked to raise their thermostats to 77 and many manufactures and business voluntarily shutdown? By most people’s analysis, wind’s performance was disappointing. Specifically during this period of peak demand, statewide wind often operated at only 5% of capacity, or less. The specific data is plotted in the attached graph. The upper line shows the peak daily electric demand as recorded by the California Independent System Operator, CASIO, during the heat storm. Daily peak power usage increased fairly steadily in mid July, reaching its peak on July 24 at 50,270 MW. Wind’s availability during this same period is presented in the lower line. Specifically this is the percent of the CASIO available wind capacity, 2,500MW, which was actually putting electricity into the CASIO grid at the time of peak demand on each day plotted.

By most measures these numbers are disappointing. On the day of peak demand, August 24, 2006, wind power produced at 254.6 MW at the time of peak demand. 254.6 MW represents only 10.2% of wind’s rated capacity of 2,500MW. Another perspective on the data, over the preceding seven days, August 17 to 23, wind produced at 89.4 to 113.0 MW, averaging only 99.1 MW at the time of peak demand or just 4% of rated capacity.
Disappointing? How about disastrous? More often than not, we quote the rated capacity of wind in the U.S. at 33%. That's compared to nuclear industry's average industry-wide capacity factor of 90%.

Want more? Take a look at this graph that Dixon included with his article:


That's right, as demand grew during the heat wave, wind's performance slid off a cliff. If the state's nuclear reactors at San Onofre and Diablo Canyon had slid to 4% of capacity during the heat wave, I don't want to think about what would have happened to the electrical grid. But for wind power, that sort of performance is just another day at the office.

Does this mean that wind doesn't have a place on the electrical grid? No, and we've said that over and over again. But what it does mean is that wind can't hope to replace baseload capacity, and the presence of baseload supply from nuclear and coal are the only things that make wind's existence on the grid possible in the first place.

One more time: Wind has a place on the electric grid, both today and tomorrow. But suggesting that wind can replace baseload capacity on the grid is irresponsible and dangerous.

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Brian Mays said…
"More often than not, we quote the rated capacity of wind in the U.S. at 33%."

Maybe you do, but I certainly do not. That's what the wind propagandists ... er ... enthusiasts say. I might say the capacity averages about 25% and call it an optimistic estimate. Look at the graph. It starts at 25% and only goes down.
Anonymous said…
This completely ignores the potential development of options for storing energy from offpeak generation for use during peak periods if wind or other alts are below full capacity during peak periods. It also picks apart a straw man; no one is claiming that wind can supply 100% of US electricity demand.
KenG said…
On the contrary, this emphasizes the problems with energy storage. Storage is relatively expensive and only makes sense if the peaks must be met with extremely expensive generation. Storage becomes unattractive if it needs to supplement another source (wind) that is very unpredictable and low capacity factor.
Brian Mays said…
Anonymous has written:

"This completely ignores the potential development of options for storing energy from offpeak generation for use during peak periods if wind or other alts are below full capacity during peak periods."

Sure and add additional cost to already expensive wind generation. Will these development options for storing energy also be subsidized? (Not that I necessarily have anything against well-targeted subsidies or subsidies for wind generation in particular. I'm just asking.)

"It also picks apart a straw man; no one is claiming that wind can supply 100% of US electricity demand."

Ah ... but that's simply not true.

This is a nuclear blog. The only reason that we are discussing wind here is because there is a entire rogues gallery of organizations who do claim that nuclear (and often coal) is unnecessary because renewables like wind can fit the bill. For example, we've all heard stuff like the following:

"We can meet our energy needs through energy efficiency, renewable energy like solar and wind power, and responsible additions to supply. We can meet our energy needs and have a clean and healthy world without nuclear power."

If, like the Sierra Club, you oppose oil and gas, you oppose coal, you oppose nuclear, you oppose large hydroelectric projects, then what's left? Wind, solar, etc., will have to supply 100% of US electricity demand. And wind will need to do better than a mere 4% capacity or they'll never make it.

Straw man, indeed. It goes straight to the point of these groups' arguments.
Anonymous said…
This completely ignores the potential development of options for storing energy

Are you completely out of your mind, anon?! It's also completely ignoring the potential development of options for cold fusion, orgon accumulators and Free Energy from the tachyonic field of the earth. And it does so for a reason: all this stuff does not exist and therefore won't give us a single wattsecond of electricity.

You can speak up again if you have a solution to the storage problem and not just a vague idea. Until then, please stay in your dream land while grown ups talk about the energy needs of the real world.

/me shakes head
Brian Mays said…
It's also completely ignoring the potential development of options for cold fusion, orgon accumulators and Free Energy from the tachyonic field of the earth.

Don't forget perpetual motion machines.
GingerMary said…
My very unscientific "un-nuclear" opinion is that at the end of the day energy is business. Wind, sun etc is something everyone has access to but until such time as we really need to research those options this world will go on as it is. Money flows from limited resources. Those with the resources make the money. That ‘s the way the world works. In the meantime nuclear has my vote.
lcmslutheran said…
Ah, yes. And then gingermary checks in with a passive-aggresive barb at those mean, nasty capitalists that run our lives and cause wars over oil.
What the tinfoil hat, aging hippie crowd always miss are the costs for some of their utopian solutions. Yet to be discussed - "shade pollution" from solar energy arrays. What is going to be the effect from taking relatively efficient soil out of production and covering it with relatively lower efficiency solar cells? I'm sorry, dear, but you can't run a house with a rooftop array of solar cells. You will have to give up your front and back yards and buy some more land, to boot.
Everything has a cost. Nothing is free. You have to take your pick. Either go out and saddle up Dobbin for a trip to the grocery store or grow your own.
Anonymous said…
Really interesting that the selective use of statistics creates an impression that wind power is totally non-productive or too expensive. This blog acts as if nuclear doesn't have extremely high costs. There are numerous instances of a complete shutdown at nuclear stations. To use a selective graph of poor wind output is about as spurious as using a graph of production of electricity from the Chernobyl reactor 4 over the last 20 years. Maybe at the end of the day a distributed renewable system with storage capacity will be far less expensive than a "cheap" nuclear option with a multi-thousand year and multi-thousand human lives cost ( an estimated 9000 cancer deaths were caused by Chernobyl). Oh, of course, this can't happen in the USA but let's not consider Unit 2 at Three Mile Island.
Anonymous said…
Hey, guess how many people died as a result of the Three Mile Island incident?

I visited a nuclear plant today and I couldn't believe how small and tidy it was! Plus I don't believe it makes any noise.

re: comment regarding selective use of statistics. NOT! You can pretty much DEPEND on the wind to be undependable, NO WIND is an almost daily occurrence. His point was, can you imagine relying upon wind to power the whole grid? No nuclear, No coal what is left? Camping, that's what!

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