In a first, wind generation surpasses coal and nuclear power for a day


Wind power was the second-largest source of electricity generation in the country on March 29, the US Energy Information Administration reported yesterday, marking the first time that wind generation exceeded coal and nuclear simultaneously over a period of 24 hours.

The milestone immediately showed how far renewable energy has come in the United States, while underscoring the efforts the country needs to make to meet President Joe Biden’s climate goals.

It comes after two good years of new wind installations. The 13.9 gigawatts of wind capacity built in 2021 followed a record 14.2 GW installed in 2020. All of that capacity is now turning into electricity. Seven of the top 10 wind generation days since 2018 occurred in the first three months of this year, while the other three occurred in 2021, according to EIA figures. Wind generation has increased from around 2% of annual US electricity production to more than 9% last year.

The surge in wind generation on March 29 was driven by the Great Plains states. The Southwest Power Pool, the 14-state regional grid operator stretching from Oklahoma to North Dakota, reported that renewable energy generation accounted for 90% of its power generation on March 29, nearly -all from the wind.

“In a decade, our region has gone from an almost unattainable 25% renewable energy penetration level to a point where we regularly exceed 75% without reliability issues,” said Bruce Rew, senior vice president of operations at SPP, in a press release. “We are able to manage wind generation more efficiently than other smaller systems because we have a huge pool of resources to tap into. »

The March milestone was first reported by E&E News last week.

The record wind figure comes with several important caveats. Electricity demand typically decreases in the spring and fall as utilities use the time to perform maintenance on their power plants. As a result, production from coal and nuclear power plants is normally lower in the spring. At the same time, March is usually the windiest month of the year. Even so, gas, coal and nuclear facilities generated more electricity in March than wind, the EIA noted. Gas has been the country’s primary source of electricity generation since 2016.

This underscores the greater challenge facing the Biden administration and those seeking to green the American network. Biden has targeted 80% carbon-free energy by the end of the decade, a figure that also includes nuclear and hydropower. Last year, low- and zero-carbon sources accounted for 42% of electricity generation in the United States.

The number of wind installations will need to essentially double by the end of the decade for the United States to be on track to achieve net-zero emissions by mid-century, Ric O’Connell said. who runs GridLab, a clean energy consultancy. It is not clear if the United States will be able to do so.

While the cost and logistics of harnessing large amounts of renewables on the grid are no longer a barrier to wind and solar, transmission, interconnection and supply chain constraints are all potential barriers to further expansion of renewable capacity in the United States. EIA figures show a drop in wind installations from 10.2 GW this year to 4.3 GW in 2023 and 5.2 GW in 2025.

“A lot of things have to happen for this to continue,” O’Connell said. Federal efforts are underway to try to facilitate the authorization of new transmission, but, he added, “there is little the federal government can do in terms of authorization and siting. It’s going to be hard. »

Reprinted from E&E News with permission from POLITICO, LLC. Copyright 2022. E&E News provides essential information for energy and environmental professionals.

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