Wind A Cost Cutter, GHG Fighter, Grid Study Says

There’s more evidence that integrating increasing amounts of wind power onto the nation’s power grids could not only go more smoothly than some have feared, it could also be a money saver.

The latest report comes from PJM (PDF available here), the grid operator for 13 states in the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes region. The goal of the study that PJM organized and GE helped carry out was to look at “the operational, planning, and market effects of large-scale integration of wind power”

wind farm

image via Shutterstock

The PJM project team found that “(e)ven at 30% penetration, results indicate that the PJM system can handle the additional renewable integration with sufficient reserves and transmission build out.”

And if you think “sufficient reserves and transmission build out” is code for expensive back-up and transmission infrastructure, that’s apparently not the case. The study found that new transmission costs would be a small fraction of the value of the energy produced from renewables.

Indeed, the report said “the principal impacts of higher penetration of renewable energy into the grid include … lower systemwide production costs” and “lower wholesale customer energy costs.” All that, and “lower emissions of criteria pollutants and greenhouse gasses,” too.

As you might expect, the wind industry loved the study, with the American Wind Energy Association saying PJM’s work “confirms that wind energy is drastically decreasing both the price of electricity and emissions of harmful pollutants.”

The industry has had plenty of good news to point to recently. A recent update of the Western Wind and Solar Integration Study, by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, showed that ramping fossil-fuel generation up and down to accommodate more renewables reduced the carbon cutting benefits of wind (and solar) by only 0.2 percent, even at high renewable-energy penetration rates. And researchers in Spain also reported that cycling doesn’t much hinder wind power’s ability to trim greenhouse gas emissions.

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.