Linking Wind Farms Can Help Average Away Problems with Intermittency

Michael Giberson

A research paper describes the benefits of linking up wind power farms before connecting wind power to the grid. Discovery News reports:

[R]esearch shows that if the farms were linked to each other first before delivering the electricity to the country’s grid, wind could offer steady, dependable power at a cost lower than presently available.

“It’s a really simple idea, but it’s not done because there are state and county boundaries. Different utilities are managing different farms,” said Cristina Archer, a research associate at Stanford University.

It is a simple idea, similar in some respects to the old industry standard practice of interconnecting neighboring utilities to enhance both utility’s reliability. Even with wind it isn’t a new idea – Archer and Jacobson cite similar ideas described for wind power in the late 1970s. What has changed, somewhat, are the economics of wind power and increasing public interest in non-fossil fuel electric power.

I don’t think the economics of power have changed so much that an idea suggested in the article – linking up multiple wind farms in the Midwest and then transporting that power all the way to California – makes sense. But, then, I’m not a transmission engineer, and one wind power company is working on what sounds to me to be a similarly impractical plan in Europe. Discovery News says, “Archer and Jacobson’s plan to interconnect wind energy is not so far-fetched. A European project called Supergrid, initiated by renewable energy company Airtricity is already underway to link a series of offshore wind farms from the Mediterranean to the North Sea.” You can see Airtricity’s Supergrid concept here.

Personally, if I were spending my own money, I’d bet on energy storage advances doing more for wind power in the long run than the linking of geographically diverse wind farms. But interconnection of wind farms can be done now, with existing technology, while work on energy storage technology continues.

The paper, by Cristina L. Archer and Mark Z. Jacobson, is forthcoming in the Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climate.


4 thoughts on “Linking Wind Farms Can Help Average Away Problems with Intermittency

  1. Mike,

    Achieving the 90% reliability of a modern fossil-fueled generator with wind turbines requires the installation of 8 wind turbines in 8 diverse and carefully matched locations, assuming that the wind turbines have 35% availability and ~25% capacity factor. The wind turbines would produce more total power than the fossil-fueled plant, but the incremental power would be “source of opportunity” power, usable when it is available but requiring replacement when it is not. That is a lot of transmission wire upstream of the grid connection.

    I agree that wind plus storage is a better bet, long term. Storage reduces the required locations to 1 and requires 4 wind turbines and storage approximately equal to the output of the four wind turbines to achieve reliability.

  2. Mike,

    Achieving the 90% reliability of a modern fossil-fueled generator with wind turbines requires the installation of 8 wind turbines in 8 diverse and carefully matched locations, assuming that the wind turbines have 35% availability and ~25% capacity factor. The wind turbines would produce more total power than the fossil-fueled plant, but the incremental power would be “source of opportunity” power, usable when it is available but requiring replacement when it is not. That is a lot of transmission wire upstream of the grid connection.

    I agree that wind plus storage is a better bet, long term. Storage reduces the required locations to 1 and requires 4 wind turbines and storage approximately equal to the output of the four wind turbines to achieve reliability.

  3. There is a new “world wide web” emerging right before our eyes. It is a global energy network and, like the internet, it will change our culture, society and how we do business. More importantly, it will alter how we use, transform and exchange energy.

    For more information, see http://www.terrawatts.com

  4. There is a new “world wide web” emerging right before our eyes. It is a global energy network and, like the internet, it will change our culture, society and how we do business. More importantly, it will alter how we use, transform and exchange energy.

    For more information, see http://www.terrawatts.com

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