The Pickens Plan and other stories involving wind energy

Michael Giberson

  • T. Boone Pickens, the oil and gas billionaire now making a splash in wind energy, has released the “Pickens Plan” for reforming the U.S. energy landscape. In brief, use a lot more wind power to displace natural gas used in electric power generation, and use the natural gas to displace gasoline in transportation uses.

    Geoff Styles provides an assessment and commentary on the plan, concluding it is “an idea that merits further analysis and consideration.” The USA Today also reports on the Pickens Plan. Pickens has an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal: My Plan to Escape the Grip of Foreign Oil.

  • The Utility Wind Integration Group has said, “Hydropower has long been viewed as a perfect fit for wind generation,” because the ready controllability of hydro overcomes some of the most obvious drawbacks of wind generation. But “perfect fit” is not the same as saying “no brainer.” It still takes effort to get the two energy sources to work together, and you need functioning contingency plans for rare events.

    Last week operators at the Bonneville Power Administration had to cut hydro generation drastically in response to an unexpected surge in power, forcing dam operators to spill more water than expected and potentially threatening migrating salmon.

  • Apparently part of the problem was that the wind power operators didn’t answer calls from the BPA, or didn’t understand instructions to cut back on output. It was the first time the BPA has called wind power operators with such requests.

  • In the Dallas Morning News, Elizabeth Souder reports on the current status of wind power in Texas: “Lawyers representing nearly everyone in the power industry have been airing these concerns to the PUC [of Texas] during the past couple of years as commissioners consider wind transmission.” The story suggests that the Texas approach may be the model for integrating wind power elsewhere in the country, perhaps justifying the heavy investment in sorting out the issues in Texas first.

12 thoughts on “The Pickens Plan and other stories involving wind energy

  1. Wind is not a substitute for gas, but a near complement. For every MW of wind installed, you have to have it backed up with 0.9 MW of gas peakers to manage system reliability given the inherent volatility of wind. The cost of building all these extra peakers should be included in the price of wind power.

    Yes, wind works well if coupled to hydro (ideally, pumped storage), but there’s a finite amount of pumped storage out there, and there’s almost none in west Texas.

    Pickens is merely trying to talk up the value of his latest investment. The hyperbolic doomsday language used in his op-ed should trigger skepticism in anybody with more than a handful of functioning neurons, but I’m sure much of the public and press corps will eat it up.

  2. Barry P. is mistaken. Gas peakers are not used to back up wind, but to meet peak load. This is a subtle but critical difference, since it means there is no basis for adding their cost to wind. A utility that is already meeting peak load can add wind to its system with little or no extra backup, saving fuel, reducing fuel price volatility, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

    For a detailed and authoritative picture of what wind can do, see the Department of Energy’s 20% Wind by 2030 Technical Report at http://www.20percentwind.org.

    Regards,
    Thomas O. Gray
    American Wind Energy Association
    http://www.powerofwind.org
    http://www.awea.org

  3. Pumped storage is good, in certain situations, for storing off peak energy and using it to generate electricity on peak. For wind power in West Texas, however, compressed air energy storage may be more efficient.

  4. “Barry P. is mistaken. Gas peakers are not used to back up wind, but to meet peak load. This is a subtle but critical difference, since it means there is no basis for adding their cost to wind. A utility that is already meeting peak load can add wind to its system with little or no extra backup, saving fuel, reducing fuel price volatility, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.”

    The fact that remains that wind does not really increase capacity of the power system in any real way since there is no guarantee it will meet peak demand. In fact the 90% confidence level capacity factor for wind power during the summer is about 2%-3%. Thus with 90% confidence you can only expect that wind will deliver an additional 2% power during the times you need it most. Additionally wind power destabilizes the power grid and this is a cost of using wind power. You need to have hydro power or some system that can be quickly turned off to deal with the instability caused by wind. I don’t think wind operators should receive any money at times when their net contribution to the grid is destabilization. They should pay for putting power on the grid when the grid does not need it. Wind is also extremely expensive, about $140/MW of capacity.

  5. “Barry P. is mistaken. Gas peakers are not used to back up wind, but to meet peak load. This is a subtle but critical difference, since it means there is no basis for adding their cost to wind. A utility that is already meeting peak load can add wind to its system with little or no extra backup, saving fuel, reducing fuel price volatility, and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.”

    The fact that remains that wind does not really increase capacity of the power system in any real way since there is no guarantee it will meet peak demand. In fact the 90% confidence level capacity factor for wind power during the summer is about 2%-3%. Thus with 90% confidence you can only expect that wind will deliver an additional 2% power during the times you need it most. Additionally wind power destabilizes the power grid and this is a cost of using wind power. You need to have hydro power or some system that can be quickly turned off to deal with the instability caused by wind. I don’t think wind operators should receive any money at times when their net contribution to the grid is destabilization. They should pay for putting power on the grid when the grid does not need it. Wind is also extremely expensive, about $140/MW of capacity.

  6. Hydropower has long been viewed as a perfect fit for wind generation,” because the ready controllability of hydro overcomes some of the most obvious drawbacks of wind generation. But “perfect fit” is not the same as saying “no brainer.” It still takes effort to get the two energy sources to work together, and you need functioning contingency plans for rare events.

  7. Hydropower has long been viewed as a perfect fit for wind generation,” because the ready controllability of hydro overcomes some of the most obvious drawbacks of wind generation. But “perfect fit” is not the same as saying “no brainer.” It still takes effort to get the two energy sources to work together, and you need functioning contingency plans for rare events.

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