Back in 2005 a study was published by a group of wind energy proponents that stated how easy and cheap it would be to integrate large amounts of wind energy into Germany’s grid. Now, in 2011, with thousands of wind turbines having been installed, how has their study panned out? Not so well, as this article points out [backup link].I almost hate to say “I told you so”, but many of the themes I’ve been discussing are mentioned in this article. I’m no electrical engineer, but I do have a general idea of how the grid works and what problems might be caused when the generation isn’t (a) under control and (b) varies wildly. As an example, and this was new information for me, before wind the engineers had to intervene in the grid’s operation about 80 times a year. Now the “engineers have to intervene every second day to maintain network stability.” That’s a lot of intervening, over twice as often as they used to, and each intervention is an opportunity to make a mistake. Another example is that during periods of low usage the excess uncontrolled production threatens to overwhelm the system, but they can’t turn the wind energy off due to laws that give it preferential treatment. They could obviously turn off other controllable generators, but: “As a result, coal, gas and nuclear facilities should be shut down before wind turbines are taken offline, but operators say they avoid this because they rely on traditional power plants to produce a consistent level of base power at all times.”
Translation: they need the dispatchable generation to balance the wind’s variability. And I can’t help but wonder how much emissions are saved during all this jockeying. I’m betting we’ll never find out, as the people who are privy to that information have an interest in keeping it to themselves.