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Taking Wind Mainstream

Given wind's intermittency, can the power grid handle much larger amounts of variable generation?

8 min read

The potential of wind power to help meet America's growing demand for electricity is staggering: According to a definitive 1993 study by the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, areas of strong winds cover about 6 percent of the mainland states and, if exploited, could supply more than current U.S. electricity consumption. Conversely, just 0.6 percent of the land of the contiguous 48 states would have to be developed with wind turbine farms to provide 15 percent of the nation's electricity requirements. Even then, less than 5 percent of the developed land would actually be occupied by wind turbines, associated electrical equipment, and access roads. In most cases, existing land uses, such as farming and ranching, could remain as they are now.

Harnessing this potential could make an enormous contribution to reducing the United States' dependence on imported oil for power generation, as well as helping to stem an increasing dependence on imported liquefied natural gas. Adding wind power to the grid can help stabilize electricity prices, too, in the face of escalating fuel costs, with oil topping US $72/bbl and natural gas prices at all-time highs. Wind power, in contrast to oil and natural gas, is both price- competitive and price- stable , and that stability can help provide a cap on the price of electricity. And let's not forget that wind power is a whole lot cleaner than fossil fuels--be they imported oil or domestic coal.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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