Why Wind Energy Cannot Fully Displace Traditional Energy Sources

Renewable energy advocates often claim wind energy is an ideal replacement for traditional energy sources such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear.

To understand why these claims don’t add up, look no further than our regions energy system operator – Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO).

MISO is the organization tasked with keeping our energy grid working and reliable. A major part of this job entails forecasting future energy demand and determining how much electricity generation capacity will be needed to safely meet it.

To determine how much capacity is needed and available, each power plant is rated in terms of its “capacity value” during peak hours – or the amount of the plant’s capacity that is available to produce electricity when it is needed most.

According to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), MISO only counts 8% of the total installed capacity of wind energy toward meeting peak energy demand because of wind energy’s intermittent nature. This means that if MISO had 15,000 MW of installed wind capacity at any moment, only 1,200 MW would be considered available to meet electricity demand.

As EIA explains:

Capacity resource planners handle intermittent generation like wind differently from other generation. Because of its unpredictable nature, planners reduce the amount wind contributes to the capacity needed to ensure reliability.

The method for developing these peak capacity values varies by region. For instance, the Midwest ISO (mostly in MRO) uses a flat 8%…

Minnesota currently has around 8,200 MW of installed capacity from coal, nuclear, and combined cycle natural gas plants. In order for wind energy to replace this capacity and maintain a reliable energy grid, according to the numbers provided by the EIA, we would need to install about 103,000 MW of wind capacity to reach the same amount of available capacity during peak hours. Even then, because 8% is only an average and wind generation may be zero, we would need to install additional back-up sources for when this occurs.

Wind is simply too unpredictable, too unreliable, and too dependent on weather conditions to replace traditional energy sources like coal, natural gas, and nuclear that capable of producing electricity at any time to meet energy demands.