A discussion about the future of the wind energy industry and the goal of 20% Energy from Wind by 2030

Interview - 20% Energy from Wind by 2030  - A Reality Check

Lawrence Jones | AREVA T&D Inc.

What barriers are there to achieving the goal of 20% wind power by 2030 in the US?
A robust transmission system is the cornerstone for large-scale integration of wind power in the United States. Therefore, perhaps the greatest barrier to achieving this goal is building new transmission to connect the large amounts of location-constrained wind resources to the load centers. Another goal-limiting factor is the lack of appropriate market rules across the various interconnections in the US. Furthermore any reversal of policy decisions made at Federal and State levels (e.g. Renewable Portfolio Standards) in support of renewable energy could send the wrong signal to the industry causing uncertainty in the markets, potentially stalling the investments in new wind plants. The reality is that there are five election cycles between now and 2030 so it is important that wind energy related policies are sustained during this period.
Other potential barriers to achieving this 20-by-2030 goal include: a surge in the global demand for wind energy which could limit the supply of turbines in the US; another financial crisis during the next two decades which affects the credit and investment markets; and lastly the lack of skilled work force to operate power systems with high penetration of variable generation.
What can state and federal agencies, as well as utilities do to accelerate increase penetration of wind and other renewable resources?
State and Federal agencies as well as several utilities are already taking bold actions to accelerate the increase of wind and other renewables in the US. At the State level, in addition to the establishments of Renewable Portfolio Standards, several states are forming different regional transmission planning coalitions to agree on a common framework to accelerate the transmission siting approval process. Such efforts are very important since many of the key transmission corridors for wind cross multiple state boundaries. At the Federal level several proposed energy legislature address issues related to granting transmission backstop siting authority to FERC, regional transmission cost-allocation, and coordinated planning across the three transmission interconnections. Finally we see more utilities are making investments in wind integration technologies and an increase in the number of utilities joining relevant industry organizations such as the Utility Wind Integration Group (UWIG) and the American or Canadian Wind Energy Association (AWEA or CanWEA).
What enabling technologies currently exist or are being developed to deal with the predictability and variability of wind and solar energy?
Forecasting systems for wind and solar are important tools to deal with predictability both in power system planning and real-time operations. The accuracy in the forecast of the amount of wind is constantly improving. However, there is continued research to be able to forecast certain particular wind characteristics, for example the rate of sudden change in the amount of wind, the so-called ‘wind ramp’. Accurate forecasting of such quantity would improve wind integration. Examples of other enabling technologies for managing variability include advanced visualization and decision support systems to improve situation awareness; wind-enabled grid simulators; and stochastic and deterministic unit commitment tools to better optimize the available generation portfolio. Another technology for reducing the impact of variability is to equip the wind turbines with advanced controls which regulate the output of the wind farms based on system operating conditions.
How can energy storage and demand response impact renewable energy?
An important aspect of wind integration is being able to manage variability. Both energy storage and demand response can help provide additional flexibility to the system. Storage can make wind energy more “dispatchable” and by taking advantage of any correlation between wind and load patterns, large-scale demand response can help utilities manage some of the wind-induced system variation.
How will smart grid enable the integration of renewable energy?
Integration of renewable energy such as wind and solar into power systems operations depends on the ability to cope with both predictability and variability. Smart grid technologies which enable better use of forecasting tools with other operational systems will improve predictability. However, a more important benefit of the smart grid for integrating wind and solar power is increased system flexibility which will give the grid operators greater situational awareness and controllability of resources like High Voltage DC, Flexible AC, and load for managing variability.
What are the steps and timetable for implementation of an integrated smart grid in the US?
The smart grid, if implemented fully, will completely transform the electricity industry. Such transformation must occur without causing any disruption of services to consumers. Therefore the transition will in many aspects be evolutionary rather than revolutionary.
An important step to implementing an integrated smart grid in the US has been taken by the establishment of the Smart Grid Interoperability Panels (SGIP) by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) last November. The SGIP will lead the industry effort to come up with the set of standards for how the grid - and hundreds of millions of devices and equipment from generation to delivery to consumption- will exchange information when consumers can conduct a myriad of energy transactions.
Another important step in the process is the installation of the necessary information and communications infrastructure to enable reliable and secure exchange of information. The recently awarded 3.4 billion dollar of DOE grants to US utilities will help to accelerate the technology infusion. In addition, because the grid must also be used to some degree as a real-time laboratory system, the investment in large-scale demonstration and deployment projects is a critical part in this initial transition during the next three years. It is important to measure and quantify and then extrapolate the benefits of full-scale implementation.
Ultimately, the pace and level of smart grid implementation will vary in different parts of the US depending on several factors such as the utilities investment plans, cost recovery filings approved by the State Public Utility Commissions, and future climate change legislature which could accelerate the transition to greater energy efficiency and a lower carbon economy.
How will the problem of aging work force and changing industry demographics affect the integration of renewable, and how can the impacts be mitigated?
Having skilled human capital is the critical factor for wide-scale deployment and integration of variable renewable energy generation. The retirement of experienced grid operators and other professionals from the industry could easily exceed the pace at which their replacements are hired, or the skills of existing staff can be updated to meet new requirements. This trend is occurring at the same time as the power industry is about to undergo a major transformation both in terms of new technologies and how the grid is operated. For example, unless operators gain more confidence and experience in managing variable resources, we could end up with conservative and suboptimal system operations, as well as a reluctance on the part of utilities to use wind and solar on a large scale. Accelerating the learning curve for operators of power systems with large amounts of wind and solar power must be a priority. In addition to intensive simulator-based training, there is the need for knowledge management systems and processes to capture best practices and lessons learned from other parts of the US and abroad. Equipped with the appropriate tools that are fully integrated with renewable energy forecast, operators can achieve a higher level of situation awareness and become more confident about managing predictability and variability of wind and solar power plants. As a result, they are more likely to run the grid less conservatively, allowing a greater percentage of the wind energy to actually be dispatched.
How has the current economic downturn affected the growth of the smart grid and the renewable energy industry?
As part of economic measures to recover the global economy, the US as well as governments of the other G20 nations including China, Canada, and the EU put in place policy and financial incentives to stimulate their economies. Worldwide, smart grid and renewable efforts benefited from billions of dollars of grants and other tax incentives. In the US alone over $4 billion in grants for smart grid projects were awarded to utilities and over $16 billion of incentives were allocated for renewable and other clean technologies. These investments are expected to spur more growth in these industry sectors. According to a 2009 3rd Quarter update on the state of the US wind industry by AWEA, the investments in wind plants are beginning to pick up. With all the attention the smart grid and renewable energy have received in the media and on Wall Street during this recession, one can expect a growth in these technologies in the coming years.
AREVA recently received an award for the US DOE for a wind energy R&D project. Can you tell us more about that project, goals and objectives and any other projects that could facilitate higher renewable energy penetration?
AREVA was awarded a Department of Energy grant in July to study global best practices in grid management tools and operations strategies for wind plants. This will provide some basis for how to operate the US electrical grid with more wind power generation, e.g. the potential of 20% wind by 2030. AREVA will assess and evaluate existing strategies for managing wind variability in control-room operations. It will also make recommendations that guide the development of business processes and decision support tools that support the effective use of wind forecasting to facilitate increased wind penetration. An important objective is to capture the experience of grid operators in Europe and other parts of world who manage significantly higher penetration levels of wind than currently seen in the US, while also recognizing the differences in their experience.

In related more recent news, the DOE announced on November 24th that the $178 million Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project was one of 16 regional smart grid demonstration awards to be funded in part by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA). AREVA T&D’s Network Management Solutions unit in Redmond, Washington, is a technology and vendor partner on the Pacific Northwest Smart Grid Demonstration Project team being managed by Battelle whose purpose is to expand upon existing infrastructure and test new smart grid technology with up to 60,000 customers in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. Using Smart Grid technologies, the study will test new combinations of devices, software and advanced analytical tools that enhance the power grid’s reliability and performance. A reliable and high performance power grid will accommodate increased integration and utilization or renewable energy.

The views expressed by the author are his and do not necessarily reflect those of any organization with which he is affiliated.
Dr. Lawrence Jones
Director, Strategy and Business Development, for the Americas at AREVA T&D Inc.

His areas of focus include Smart Transmission and Distribution Grids, Renewable Energy, and Climate Change Impacts on Energy Systems. He is a frequent lecturer on issues such as climate change, smart grid technologies, and other energy and water related topics in the U.S. and abroad. Dr. Jones also serves Chairman of the Energy and Smart Grid Committee of TechAmerica, and as Affiliate Assistant Professor at the Department of Electrical Engineering, University of Washington in Seattle. Dr. Jones co-founded the International Workshop on Large-Scale Integration of Wind Power and Transmission Networks for Off Shore Wind Farms (2000) which has become one of the prominent wind energy conferences held in Europe. He served as Chairman of the Renewable Energy Stability Modeling Industry Task Force of the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) in 2001 – 2002. Dr. Jones has given numerous presentations and written several articles on the topics of renewable energy and grid operations He holds M.Sc., Licentiate, and Ph.D. degrees in Electrical Engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden.

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