Wind Powered Energy Generation Continues to Grow

Linemen looking at windmills

Even as recently as a decade ago, conventional wisdom believed that, while solar and wind would be some “nice to haves” on an as-needed basis, in that they could supplement more traditional baseload generation, such as natural gas, coal, and nuclear, few people envisioned today’s reality – that solar and wind are now baseload generation sources in their own right.

On Tuesday, March 29, for example, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), wind turbines in the lower 48 states produced 2,017 gigawatthours (GWh) of electricity, making wind the second-largest source of electric generation for that day, behind only natural gas.

Daily wind-powered electricity had surpassed coal-fired and nuclear electricity generation separately on other days earlier this year, but had not surpassed both sources on a single day.

In specific, on March 29, natural gas produced 31 percent of electricity, wind came in second, at 19 percent, nuclear came in third (also at 19 percent, but slightly less total GWh than wind), coal was in fourth place at 17 percent, and all other sources combined produced 14 percent.

In the U.S., according to the EIA, wind speeds, and correspondingly, wind-powered electricity generation, often peak during spring. On March 29, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which covers parts of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and neighboring states, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) both reported new wind penetration records. Wind penetration represents the share of electric demand satisfied by wind generation. SPP reported wind penetration of 88.5 percent, and ERCOT reported wind penetration of 67.2 percent for the same day.

“Consistent growth in the installed capacity of wind turbines in the U.S. has led to more wind-powered electricity generation,” said the EIA. “In September 2019, U.S. wind capacity surpassed nuclear capacity, but wind still generated less electricity than nuclear because of differences in those technologies’ utilization.” That is, the average capacity factor of U.S. wind generators, which stood at 35 percent in 2021, is lower than the average capacity factor of nuclear generators, which stood at 93 percent in 2021. (Nuclear generators are designed to run at or near full output, which they typically do.)

“Because electricity demand tends to be lowest in the spring and fall months, some generation sources, including both nuclear and coal, reduce their output or schedule maintenance during these months,” said the EIA. “Also, on days when weather patterns lead to more wind generation, competing coal-fired and natural gas-fired generators often are called upon to reduce their output so that overall electricity supply matches demand.”

The EIA report concluded by noting that it does not expect wind to surpass either coal-fired or nuclear generation for any month as a whole in 2022 or 2023, based on its most recent “Short-Term Energy Outlook” forecast.

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