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US study shows that 20% from wind is possible by 2024

The integration of 20% from wind energy is technically feasible, but will require significant expansion of the transmission infrastructure and system operational changes in order for it to be realised, according to an analysis from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

The Eastern Wind Integration & Transmission Study(EWITS) was released by the Department of Energy’s NREL following 2.5 years of technical study of future scenarios for high penetration from wind turbines. The study analyses the economic, operational and technical implications of shifting at least 20% of the Eastern Interconnection’s electrical load to wind energy by 2024.

“Twenty percent wind is an ambitious goal, but this study shows that there are multiple scenarios through which it can be achieved,” explains Project Manager David Corbus of NREL. “Whether we’re talking about using land-based wind in the midwest, offshore wind in the east or any combination of wind power resources, any plausible scenario requires transmission infrastructure upgrades and we need to start planning for that immediately.”

The study identifies operational best practices and analyses wind resources, future wind deployment scenarios, and transmission options. It concludes that the integration of 20% from wind energy is technically feasible but, without transmission enhancements, “substantial curtailment” of wind generation would be required.

The relative cost of aggressively expanding the existing transmission grid represents only a small portion of the total annualised costs in any of the scenarios studied, and drawing wind energy from a larger geographic area makes it both less expensive and a more reliable energy source, it notes. Development of wind energy is a “highly cost-effective way to reduce carbon emissions” as wind energy displaces the need to combust fossil fuels and the resulting GHG emissions.

Carbon emissions are reduced by similar amounts in all scenarios examined by NREL, indicating that transmission helps to optimise the electrical system and does not result in coal power being shipped from the midwest to states on the eastern seaboard. Reduced fossil fuel expenditures “more than pay for the increased costs of additional transmission” in all high-wind scenarios.

“To put the scale of this study in perspective, consider that just over 70% of the US population gets its power from the Eastern Interconnect,” says Corbus. “Incorporating high amounts of wind power in the eastern grid goes a long way towards clean power for the whole country.”

“We can bring more wind power online but, if we don’t have the proper infrastructure to move that power around, it’s like buying a hybrid car and leaving it in the garage,” he explains.

The EWITS study consists of three parts: a wind resource assessment and wind plant siting study, a transmission study, and a wind integration study. It is the largest study of its kind conducted in the USA to date and includes a cursory analysis of carbon pricing impacts.

DoE is sponsoring a similar study to examine the integration of both wind and solar energy into part of the Western Interconnection. That Western Wind & Solar Integration Study will evaluate issues similar to EWITS and is scheduled for completion by the middle of this year.

NREL is DoE’s primary national laboratory for renewable energy research and development. It is operated for DoE by The Alliance for Sustainable Energy.

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Energy infrastructure  •  Policy, investment and markets  •  Solar electricity  •  Wind power