Absent clean storage systems any excess power produced by renewable energy generation must be ‘stored’ on the grid. What that really means is that traditional fossil fuel powered or hydroelectric plants pick up the slack when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. Denmark has the good fortune to be able to tap into the large hydroelectric facilities on the grid from neighboring countries and therefore produce much of its power with wind. Sadly, this is not the case within the US.
The argument against massive wind power development in the United States has centered on the intermittency of the resource. Wind power generation works at maximum efficiency about one-third of the time. Thus, a heavy reliance on wind would necessitate development of other generation that could be tapped when wind is not available.
Danish energy planners neatly sidestep that issue because their nation has major transmission line connections to Sweden and Norway, where hydroelectric power resources are about triple Denmark’s annual electricity consumption, and to Germany, which has diverse generation resources. By comparison, in the United States, the most abundant wind resources are in the middle of the country relatively far from coastal population centers. A major reliance on wind generation would require a significant investment in upgrading the power grid.
Sadly, for the US to even consider broad deployment of centralized wind will require a massive investment in the national grid.
Can the United States replicate, perhaps more modestly, what is being attempted in Denmark? Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chair Joseph Kelliher said it would require strong regional power grids. Today, there are more than 500 transmission owners, “500 sets of hands pulling the levers for those 500 machines,” he said, in a personal interview. Coordinating an array of relatively small generators spread over a vast expanse for the benefit of far off urban centers will require complex coordination, something made difficult by today’s balkanized grid. Furthermore, while annual investment in transmission has doubled since 2002, Kelliher said, it is “still not adequate.”
Wind advocates say that an investment of $60 billion in 19,000 miles of 765-kilovolt transmission lines would spur development of massive arrays of wind generation in the United States. They are focused on 20 percent wind penetration by 2030.
As for those Americans who say the design of the current power grid is an impediment to widespread wind generation, Danes say America must make needed investments in the grid to make it more reliable. Investing in the grid, they emphasize, would allow wind generation to go forward, in a big and inexpensive way.
The real solution is to decentralize. Stay regional or local.