In a first, wind power peaks coal and nuclear power for a day

Wind was the second largest source of power generation in the country on March 29, the US Energy Information Administration reported yesterday, marking the first time wind production ever exceeded coal and nuclear power in a 24-hour period.

The milestone showed at once how far the United States’ renewable energy has come, even when it emphasized how far the country must go to reach President Joe Biden’s climate goals.

It comes after two strong years of new wind installations. The 13.9 gigawatt wind capacity built in 2021 came after the record level of 14.2 GW installed in 2020. All that capacity is now converted into electricity. Seven of the ten best days for wind production since 2018 occurred during the first three months of this year, while the remaining three occurred in 2021, according to EIA figures. Wind production has grown from about 2 percent of annual US power production to more than 9 percent last year.

The increase in wind production on March 29 was driven by the states of Great Plains. Southwest Power Pool, the regional grid operator for 14 states stretching from Oklahoma to North Dakota, reported that renewable production accounted for 90 percent of its electricity production on March 29, with almost everything from wind.

“In a decade, our region has gone from thinking of 25% renewable penetration levels as almost inaccessible to a point where we regularly exceed 75% without reliability issues,” said Bruce Rew, Senior Vice President of Operations SPP, in a statement. “We can handle wind production more efficiently than other, smaller systems can because we have a huge pool of resources to draw from.”

The milestone in March was first reported by E&E News last week.

The wind record comes with several important warnings. The need for power usually decreases in the spring and autumn, and power plants use the time to perform maintenance on their power plants. Production from coal and nuclear power plants is normally lower in the spring as a result. At the same time, March is generally the windiest month of the year. Despite this, gas, coal and nuclear power plants generated more power in March than wind, the EIA noted. Gas has been the main source of electricity production in the country since 2016.

It underlines the greater challenge facing the Biden administration and those who want to make the US network greener. Biden has aimed for 80 percent carbon-free power by the end of the decade, a figure that also includes nuclear power and hydropower. Last year, low- and zero-carbon sources accounted for 42 percent of US power production.

The number of wind farms will need to double by the end of the decade for the United States to get on track for net zero emissions by the middle of the century, says Ric O’Connell, who heads GridLab, a clean energy consulting firm. It is not clear if the United States will be able to do that.

Although the cost and logistics of operating large amounts of renewable energy online are no longer an obstacle to wind and solar energy, transmission, interconnection and supply chain constraints are all potential obstacles to a further expansion of US renewable capacity. MKB’s figures show a fall in wind farms from 10.2 GW this year to 4.3 GW 2023 and 5.2 GW 2025.

“A lot of things have to happen for it to continue,” O’Connell said. Federal efforts are underway to try to make it easier to allow new transfers, but, he added, “the federal government can only do so much in terms of allowing and placing. It will be tough.”

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides important news for energy and environmental professionals.

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