NREL Study Shows 20% Wind is Possible by 2024

January 27, 2010

As much as 20% of the power connected to the grid could come from wind by 2024, according to a new study by DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). The report, "Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study," released on January 20, is a technical review analyzing the economic, operational, and technical implications of shifting 20% or more of the Eastern Interconnection's electrical load to wind energy by the year 2024. The Eastern Interconnection is the largest of three power grids in the United States, running from the East Coast to as far west as eastern Montana (see a map from the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, and an NREL map of the study area). It provides power to more than 70% of the U.S. population. The study concludes that 20% wind power is technically feasible, although transmission upgrades and operational changes to the system will be required, regardless of the source of the wind power. Also, while significant costs, challenges, and impacts are associated with a 20% wind scenario, substantial benefits could overcome those costs. The study also finds that reaching 20% wind power would require a major national commitment to clean, domestic energy sources.

The unprecedented report, initiated in 2008, finds that drawing wind energy from a larger geographic area makes it both less expensive and more reliable, because the aggregated wind power output is more predictable and less variable. It also finds that the relative cost of aggressively expanding the transmission grid represents only a small portion of the total annualized costs of the wind energy expansion and is more than paid for by reduced expenditures for fossil fuels. The expanded transmission grid also helps to optimize the electrical system, allowing wind power to provide a highly cost-effective means of reducing carbon emissions. While it did pose a number of avenues for future study, the report noted that the widespread adoption of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles for nighttime recharging (when wind generation is higher) could ease some of the issues associated with the integration of wind power into the grid. See the NREL press release and Web page for the Eastern Wind Integration and Transmission Study.