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Wind energy growth hits new record high, smart grid can make it work

2011 total global installed wind capacity. Source: WWEA. Click to enlarge.

The World Wind Energy Association reports that in 2011 the global market for wind turbines set a new record: a total of 42 gigawatts (GW) installed capacity. This is up nearly 12% from 2010 — and more than double the 19 GW total growth in all power plants in the U.S. that same year.

This brings the total worldwide wind energy capacity to 239 GW — enough to meet 3% of the world’s electricity demand.

While wind energy offers clear environmental benefits, this growth poses greater problems with intermittency for utilities. It also could lead to more frequent curtailments, when wind energy is wasted.

Fortunately, the smart grid and smart meters provide a powerful solution, by enabling consumers to time-shift their energy use to better match the timing of wind power generation.

China saw more wind capacity growth than any other nation; it added 18 GW of new wind turbines within 2011, yielding total capacity of 63 GW — more than a quarter of the world’s wind capacity. The U.S. followed with 6.8 GW of new wind capacity. Next came India (27 GW), Germany (2 GW) and Canada (1.3 GW). Spain, France and Italy added each around 1 GW.

2011 new wind capacity added, by nation. Click to enlarge.

Meagan Tracy of Treehugger.com recently described an ongoing project in Hawaii to prove whether the smart grid can help address issues related to wind turbines.

There, Hawaiian Electric Co. (HECO) is teaming up with Honeywell to use their automated demand response technology. In this voluntary program, HECO is offering customers cash incentives to automatically turn some of their power loads down or off within 10 minutes’ notice if wind production suddenly declines. Customers will receive $5 per kilowatt for signing up for the program plus 50 cents for every kilowatt-hour that they’re actually powered down. Smart meters will measure the response and provide data to calculate customer payments.

Participating residential and business customers will turn over control of their lights, air conditioners, appliances, factory motors and process lines to Honeywell’s smart grid controllers.

The goal of the program is to be able to quickly shed 50 MW of demand to balance out the grid if wind capacity slows. Customers will be linked to HECO via Honeywell’s automated demand response servers, and the Tridium controllers will be installed at buildings to make the actual power load adjustments such as cycling air conditioners and turning off non-essential lights, pumps and motors.

Looking ahead to the future, declining costs should support continued wind market growth.

A recent study by Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found that the overall cost of U.S. wind energy should reach an all-time low in 2012. Efficiency improvements and other cost-reducing factors, such as tax policies, have outpaced higher purchase prices for turbines.

Wind energy and the smart grid: partners for a smarter world.