How much wind could the East Coast take if its power grid could take wind?

Offshore wind turbines in the Irish Sea, in calm weather. (credit: Photograph by Andy Dingley/Wikimedia Commons)

How much wind power a system can incorporate is a significant problem in power grid management. At a basic level, grid operators can’t control when the wind blows, and the problem is exacerbated by the fact that more traditional generators can’t always be ramped up quickly if the wind suddenly cuts out. If gusts unexpectedly stop gusting on a hot July day and everyone on the east coast reaches to turn on their air-conditioning at the same time, grid operators can neither generate electricity from the wind, nor can they always immediately generate electricity from more traditional sources, because those need time to ramp up. Thus a generation shortage occurs—and that can lead to a power outage.

A recent pair of studies conducted by the University of Delaware and Princeton University tried to asses how much wind power PJM Interconnection, an East Coast-based grid operator that serves 60 million people in 14 states, could incorporate before the wind’s unpredictability might put grid reliability at risk.

The researchers ran hundreds of simulations to see how well the grid could adjust to five levels of offshore wind farm build-out along the US Atlantic coast: level 1 added 7 gigawatts of installed capacity and level 5 added 70 gigawatts of installed capacity.

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Megan Geuss


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