US wind power grid could provide reliable supply

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Researchers have proposed a wind power grid linking offshore turbines along the east coast of the US as a way of smoothing out fluctuations in supply.

"Making wind-generated electricity more steady will enable wind power to become a much larger fraction of our electric sources," said the paper's lead author Willett Kempton, professor of marine policy at the University of Delaware.

The researchers analyzed five year's wind observations from 11 monitoring stations from Florida to Maine. Based on wind speeds at each location, they estimated electrical power output from a hypothetical five-megawatt offshore turbine.

"Our analysis shows that when transmission systems will carry power from renewable sources, such as wind, they should be designed to consider large-scale meteorology, including the prevailing movement of high- and low-pressure systems," said Dr Kempton.

The line of the proposed grid would fit nicely with the storm track that shifts northward or southward along the US east coast on a weekly or seasonal time scale, they say. At any one time, a high or low pressure system is likely to be producing wind somewhere along the coast.

The researchers found that while each power generation site exhibited the expected ups and downs, when they simulated a power line connecting them, the overall power output was smoothed so that maximum or minimum output was rare.

In the particular five-year period studied, the power output of the simulated grid never stopped completely.

Reducing supply fluctuations would give power suppliers time to ramp up or down power production from other energy sources as needed, the researchers said.

It's all very theoretical at this stage, though, as there aren't any wind turbines at all in US waters right now.