When the Southwest Power Pool in the United States met a record-setting 52.1% of its electricity demand from wind last week, the number itself made headlines. But the bigger story, energy analyst Dennis Wamsted writes on The Energy Collective, was the sea change in grid policies and capabilities that SPP’s achievement represented.
Even a decade ago, SPP noted in a release, utilities and their regional networks would have considered a 25% generation share for distributed power sources unrealistically high. “Since then,” said Vice President of Operations Bruce Rew, “we’ve gained experience and implemented new policies and procedures. Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50% wind penetration. It’s not even our ceiling.”
He added that “we continue to study even higher levels of renewable, variable generation as part of our plans to maintain a reliable and economic grid of the future.”
Wamsted recalls a time not too long ago when utility executives were deeply concerned about the impact of wind generation on central grids. “From the outside, the degree of unease often seemed over the top, but for those charged with operating the system, the concerns were indeed real,” he writes.
Since then, “experience has changed those attitudes,” with an analysis now mapping out system upgrades and operational changes that “would enable the SPP transmission system to reliably handle up to the 60% wind penetration levels studied.”
Wamsted notes that “that type of matter-of-fact finding 10 years ago would have been almost unthinkable, but today it is common across the utility industry,” extending into a dozen Republican-leaning states that “have been prime beneficiaries of the wind power industry’s development in the past 10 years.”
He cites the ERCOT transmission system in Texas, where wind and solar accounted for the majority of newly-installed capacity last year, as well as Iowa, where Sen. Chuck Grassley (R) warned last year that the White House and Congress would tamper with federal Production Tax Credits for wind “over my dead body.”