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How Wind Met All of Denmark's Electricity Needs for 90 Hours
By Bentham Paulos
Renewable electricity records are being broken every day. In early October, Germany hit a 59 percent renewable peak, Colorado utility Xcel Energy peaked at 60 percent wind at the beginning of the year and Spain got its top power supply from wind for three months leading into 2013.
But that’s chump change compared with Denmark. According to data from Energinet, the national grid operator, wind power has produced 30 percent of gross power consumption to date in 2013. This includes more than 90 hours where wind produced more than all of Denmark’s electricity needs, peaking at 122 percent on Oct. 28, at 2 a.m.
And Denmark has plans to get to 50 percent more wind by 2020, creating even bigger hourly peaks. Energinet predicts the country may hit as many as 1,000 hours per year of power surplus.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
To champions of renewables, this is validation that a clean energy future is possible and that the transition is already underway. These regions also give insight into what is to come in the U.S., and what needs to change to keep a reliable and affordable power system as clean energy grows.
Postcards from the future
As part of America’s Power Plan, we have developed a series of “postcards from the future,” describing places like Denmark that are already grappling with a high-renewables future.
Studies and real-world experience are underscoring that there are many tactics available to deal with the variability of wind and solar, and that these tactics are largely substitutes for each other.
While energy storage comes to mind first for many people, the truth is that the grid has functioned just fine with very little storage. Power system operators have to deal with variability all the time, with or without renewables. Demand fluctuates with the weather, time of day, social activities, and industrial operations. And supply varies unexpectedly too, such as when a power plant breaks down. The fluctuations of wind and solar, especially at moderate levels, are just one more variable—one that may or may not add to overall variability, depending on the system and timing.
Power system engineers use a whole suite of tools to match supply and demand, both minute-to-minute and over longer time frames. The most obvious example is a dispatchable power plant, like a gas turbine. But they also benefit from bigger balancing areas (trading power with neighbors), more transmission connections to reduce congestion, faster-acting fossil power plants, direct load control and demand response, targeted energy efficiency, and curtailment of wind and solar plants.
Hydro power and even fossil fuels are the traditional forms of energy storage, but many more are emerging, such as using power to heat district heating systems, compressed air, batteries and flywheels, and charging electric cars during the renewable peak.
It is increasingly common to treat wind power as a controllable generator, rather than just letting it go full out. System operators in New York, Texas and the Midwest direct wind farm owners to submit five-minute forecasts of output, and ramp up and down if necessary to meet system demands, just like conventional generators. The Midwest ISO enforces this with a “dispatchable intermittent tariff.”
Making it work: Easy Solutions First
So how can Denmark be 122 percent wind-powered? Where does the extra power go?
Denmark is part of an integrated regional grid with the Scandinavian countries and parts of Germany. They have a constant trade with utilities in the region, especially hydro plants in Norway.
As renewables grow and as Denmark attempts to phase out fossil fuels altogether by 2050, the country is aggressively adopting smart grid technologies, leading Europe in research and demonstration projects on a per-capita basis. The island of Bornholm will be a test bed, with extensive smart grid and renewable energy deployment. Demand response is beginning to grow, though in a different form than in the U.S. Denmark also has big goals for electric cars, and has exempted them from the 180 percent sales tax applied to gas and diesel vehicles.
But conventional solutions will be the first solution through better grid links between countries. As Germany’s Agora Energiewende has put it in its 12 Insights report, “Grids are cheaper than storage facilities.” More grid connections allow surplus power to be shipped off rather than curtailed or stored. Larger balancing areas reduce the variability of wind and solar across a wider geographic area. Agora thinks storage will only be necessary when renewables constitute 70 percent of total supply.
As in the U.S., European regulators are grappling with policies to integrate large amounts of renewables. While technical issues remain, they are not really new, only of a larger scale. Most of the integration tools are known; they just need to be bigger and more capable to deal with bigger variations.
Less known are the policy issues. How big should control areas be? How much should be invested in transmission lines, and who should pay for them? What is the relative value of energy payments, versus capacity payments or ancillary services? Most of all, how should we pay for the services we need to keep the lights on?
In America’s Power Plan, Mike Hogan of the Regulatory Assistance Project calls for aligning power markets with clean energy goals, giving proper incentives for market flexibility.
With 2020 just around the corner, it will be instructive to see how Denmark deals with getting half its electricity from the wind. What will the country do with a 200 percent wind day?
Bentham Paulos is the project manager for America’s Power Plan.
Author's note: A number of system operators have put their real-time data online and in iPhone apps, so you can track hourly progress on renewables.
National Grid’s NETA (England): Data sources
ISO New England: Guest dashboard
Midwest ISO: Contour pricing map
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
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Tensions are continuing to rise in Canada over a controversial pipeline project as protesters enter their 12th day blockading railways, demonstrating on streets and highways, and paralyzing the nation's rail system
Colorado River Has Lost 1.5 Billion Tons of Water to the Climate Crisis, 'Severe Water Shortages' May Follow
California is headed toward drought conditions as February, typically the state's wettest month, passes without a drop of rain. The lack of rainfall could lead to early fire conditions. With no rain predicted for the next week, it looks as if this month will be only the second time in 170 years that San Francisco has not had a drop of rain in February, according to The Weather Channel.
The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.
"This hasn't happened in 150 years or more," said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist at UCLA's Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to The Guardian. "There have even been a couple [of] wildfires – which is definitely not something you typically hear about in the middle of winter."
While the Pacific Northwest has flooded from heavy rains, the southern part of the West Coast has seen one storm after another pass by. Last week, the U.S. Drought Monitor said more Californians are in drought conditions than at any time during 2019, as The Weather Channel reported.
The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.
"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.
Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.
Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.
"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.
NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.
As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.
"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.
The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.
"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."
- Is California heading for another drought? - Los Angeles Times ›
- CA wildfire season: Will rain, snow weather forecast end risk? | The ... ›
- California Fires Now Rage All Year as Drought Creates Tinderbox ... ›
- California weather stays dry as rain and snow come up short | The ... ›
- California Emerged From Drought and Is Still Catching Fire - The ... ›
A warm day in winter used to be a rare and uplifting relief.
Now such days are routine reminders of climate change – all the more foreboding when they coincide with news stories about unprecedented wildfires, record-breaking "rain bombs," or the accelerated melting of polar ice sheets.
Where, then, can one turn for hope in these dark months of the year?