Frequent readers of this blog know that I am very skeptical wind will make very much sense as a major power source outside of a few niche applications. Solar may not be economic today, but I think it will someday, and maybe even some day soon. But I am not sure wind will ever be ready for prime time.
I thought this was pretty funny: (emphasis added)
In the space of one hour last month, electricity generated at wind farms in the eastern end of the Columbia River Gorge shot up by 1,000 megawatts "“ enough to power some 680,000 homes.
Less than an hour later, it plummeted almost as much.
Sitting in front of 10 computer screens in a fifth-floor room of the federal Bonneville Power Administration headquarters in Portland, Kim Randolph had to react quickly.
Working from a keyboard, she diverted millions of gallons of water away from massive turbines spinning in Columbia River dams and sent it around the dams.
The 17-year veteran power operations specialist remembers how fast she needed to work as a wind storm caused generation to peak and fall three times over eight hours.
The article is about the difficulty for grid operators in integrating and managing wind in the grid. But here is the part that slides by -- despite the electricity it is putting in the grid, wind is contributing...nothing. Note that when wind production is surging, the utility is sending water around the turbines of the dam. That lost potential energy is gone forever. All the wind power did in this case is substitute for clean hydro power. It has not value in this particular case (beyond the ability of the utility to put wind on its annual report and seek subsidies from the Obama administration).
Apparently the costs of trying to integrate wind into the grid is so high the utility tried to charge wind producers a higher integration charge than they do for other sources. This attempt to set pricing equal to actual costs was apparently killed by pressure from the Obama administration, making sure that wind will continue to get preferential treatment and I presume substitute for dirty hydro power in the future.
Postscript: I just don't see how wind is ever going to work on the grid. In this case, wind is backed up by hydro, but in others it has to be backed up by spinning, fuel-burning fossil fuel plants. Wind makes more sense to me linked to some type of flexible local process. Using wind to make hydrogen from water may make sense. Wind could store its energy by pumping water backwards back up a dam to be recovered as electricity through hydro power later. Or it could run a local process, such as water desalinization (a good potential candidate as sea breezes tend to be more constant).