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California Sets New Record for Wind Generation

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When we are ready for winter to end but forced to endure a few more weeks of grey and blustery days, we often attempt to comfort ourselves by saying “April showers bring May flowers.” But now, thanks to the growing amount of wind generation capacity and blustery spring winds, we can expect something else in April: loads of clean, renewable energy.

California sets new wind generation record

Nowhere was this more apparent last week than in California, which set a new wind generation record on Sunday, April 7. At peak production, nearly 4,200 megawatts of wind turbines were delivering electricity (see graph). Over the day these turbines were responsible for generating almost 13 percent of all the electricity consumed in the state.

The CEO of the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages about 80 percent of California’s electricity grid, was quoted in The Sacramento Bee saying: “With these impressive wind-production levels, California is well positioned to meet the 33 percent by 2020 green power goal.”

Renewable energy generation in California on April 7, 2013. Source: California Independent System Operator

Clean and reliable energy: not just a California thing

Growing amounts of clean, reliable electricity is not just something we are experiencing in California. This week, UCS released a report called Ramping up Renewables: Energy You Can Count On, which analyzes the growth of clean energy installations across the country, along with an accompanying infographic. For a quick summary of the report, check out Steve Clemmer’s blog (he’s one of the primary authors of the report).

It’s true that most types of wind and solar facilities cannot store electricity on their own and therefore are limited to generation periods when the wind is blowing or the sun is shining. (Some solar thermal technologies can store heat from the sun for electricity generation at later times.) However, matching electricity supply and demand under uncertain and changing conditions like extreme weather events, equipment failures, or constantly changing demand is not a new concept for grid operators.

Operators are becoming much more sophisticated in the way they operate electricity systems to make grids more flexible, responsive, and resilient. For example, the CAISO has implemented a pilot program with the Bonneville Power Administration in the Northwest that allows wind generators to schedule electricity into the grid every 30 minutes instead of only once per hour. This will improve wind generation forecasts and reduce the quantity of other generation that must be paid to stand by and fill in when the wind doesn’t blow.

Steve’s report explains more tools that grid operators have within their reach today to accommodate much larger amounts of clean energy into the electricity system and maintain reliability.

While transitioning away from dirty and harmful fossil generation technologies will take time, creativity, and political will, it’s absolutely possible. And when the wind whips my backyard trees into a frenzy of unharnessed energy, it’s hard to imagine why we wouldn’t seize that opportunity as quickly as possible.

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About the author: Laura Wisland is a senior energy analyst and an expert on California renewable energy policies. She holds a master’s degree in public policy. See Laura's full bio.

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