E Why Wind Power Transition Schemes Are Pipe Dreams

  • Renewable energy advocates boldly proclaim that the levelized cost of electricity, or “LCOE,” from wind turbines is cheaper than the LCOE from thermal power plants.
  • Unfortunately, LCOE calculations are inherently flawed because they price megawatt-hours of electricity while completely ignoring the intrinsic value of reliability.
  • Under normal conditions, nuclear and coal-fired power plants provide baseload power for the ERCOT grid, while wind turbines and gas-fired plants serve excess demand.
  • Since wind power is not consistent, dispatchable, or reliable, gas-fired power plants must be kept on perpetual standby for the inevitable periods when wind power fails.
  • Keeping gas-fired power plants on standby creates massive investment redundancies and operating inefficiencies that increase electricity costs for all power consumers.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been studying wind power’s role in The Great Texas Blackout of 2021. Last week, I found myself wondering whether the US Energy Information Administration’s “Hourly Electric Grid Monitor” could provide more than a few days of data. When I explored the data options on the EIA’s website, I found I could specify a custom date range and download up to 31 days of hourly data. So, I downloaded complete hourly data sets for August 2020 and February 2021 and built stacked area graphs that show the actual contributions of nuclear, coal, wind, solar, and natural gas to Texas power supplies during those months.

(Click on image to enlarge)

The red segments at the bottom of each graph represent stable baseload power from nuclear plants. The grey segments represent tunable baseload power from coal-fired plants. The green and yellow segments represent intermittent and variable power from wind and solar. Finally, the blue segments at the top represent reliable dispatchable power from gas-fired plants.

Now let’s see what assumption-free-analysis of the historical data can teach us.

First, I’ve always assumed that coal-fired power plants generate stable power 24/7/365. So, I was surprised to learn that coal-fired plants in Texas are routinely ramped up to generate more power during peak demand periods and then ramped down to generate less power overnight. While coal-fired power’s ability to ramp up and down contributes to maintaining the balance between supply and demand, the process takes several hours.

Second, the graphs show how ERCOT integrates power supplies from several different classes of generating resources to keep supply and demand in balance 24-hours a day. If you stop to consider how the principal classes of power plants operate, several points become self-evident:

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Susan Miller 1 day ago Member's comment

Fascinating, thanks.