Backup for Wind Power

A question that people often ask about wind power (and was asked in the comments section of my previous post) is what can be done when the wind speed decreases in an area. There are several methods that can be used to address this problem.

The easiest option is to simply have wind farms spread out over a large area and interconnects that can spread the load. This greatly reduces the problems but is not a total solution.

The next step is to have a series of power plants that can quickly ramp up supply to meet the demand. One good option for this is gas-fired power plants, while they aren’t ideal for the environment they are cheap to build and can react quickly to changing demand. If a gas fired plant is only used when wind speeds are low it should on average be running at a small fraction of it’s peak capacity and use little fuel. Another good option is hydro-electric power which can be turned on quickly, which doesn’t produce any CO2 emissions and is already used widely (about 10% of Australia’s electricity is provided by hydro-electric power).

The ideal solution is to have every user of grid power know when the electricity is cheap (when there is a surplus of wind power) and when it’s expensive (when gas or hydro power is being used). Then non-critical services can be run when electricity is cheap. For example you could put clothes in your washing machine and program it to start the wash when electricity becomes cheap, some time during the day there will be a cheap time and the washing will get done. Once consumers know when electricity is cheap (via X10 or similar technology) they can use that information to determine when to use electricity generated from photo-voltaic cells on their roof and when to use grid power. The same technology can be used for heating and cooling of your home or office, turning off the A/C for an hour or so is only going to be a problem in the middle of summer or winter, for most of the year any heating or cooling could be done with cheap electricity. These technologies are all being developed at the moment (I once briefly worked on a system that could be used as a pre-cursor to managing home electricity use for times of cheap electricity).

3 comments to Backup for Wind Power

  • ssam

    i recently heard on the podcast from
    about compressed air energy storage.

  • Anonymous

    Interesting solution, but who would have a financial interest in constructing a system to tell people when they can get cheaper electricity? Furthermore, having everyone turn things on when electricity becomes cheap might immediately exceed capacity and make electricity not cheap. :) Finally, metering would become more complex than the current system of “how much did you use this month” * “how much did it cost this month”.

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