It is a new snub to the detractors of wind power, at a time when the two candidates for the French presidential election wish to slow down the establishment of new parks in the land – even dismantle the existing installations, as far as by Marine Le Pen. Because while the costs of these bladed giants have collapsed in a decade, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) recently reminded us, their level of production in some countries is now flirting with that more traditional sources of energy… even going so far as to exceed them.
Or at least briefly. Thus, in the United States, wind turbines have for the first time provided more electricity in one day than coal or nuclear power, the American Energy Information Agency (EIA) reported on Thursday. Concretely, they generated a total of 2,017 gigawatt hours (GWh) of electricity on Tuesday March 29, while the atom produced 1,989 GWh and coal 1,822 GWh. This is a symbolically important step, since if wind power had already temporarily outperformed black rock or nuclear reactors on the other side of the Atlantic, it had never yet outstripped the two at the same time on the scale of a daytime.
All the conditions were met
It must be said that gusts crossed the country that day: the Southwest Power Pool (SPP), which notably covers regions of Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska and Dakota, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), where many wind turbines are installed, had both reported new wind penetration records.
At the same time, electricity consumption tending to be lower in the spring, some coal and nuclear power plants were operating as planned at slower speed, while some were shut down for scheduled maintenance.
Added to this is the fact that ” on days when weather conditions cause greater wind power generation, competing coal and natural gas generators are often called upon to reduce output so that overall supply matches demand », Specifies the EIA on its website. Enough to allow wind turbines to steal the show, at least for a few hours.
If the conditions were exceptional that day, such a phenomenon could nevertheless occur ” more frequently as wind capacity builds, according to Tyler Jubert, power market analyst at S&P Global. In fact, the American market is very promising for wind power, since with no less than 100 projects planned, the administration of President Joe Biden is trying to make up for the ground lost in the field during the previous term of office. This year alone, an additional 7.6 gigawatts (GW) are expected to be connected to the grid, according to EIA forecasts.
Wind power load factor remains low
Remains that ” it is not certain that this performance will be repeated regularly in the short term “, tempers the EIA. And for good reason, the production of these giant blades remains by nature intermittent and uncontrollable, that is to say conditioned by weather conditions, unlike atomic or hydrocarbon power plants. As proof, the total theoretical capacity of energy that wind turbines can produce already exceeds that of nuclear reactors since September 2019, but their actual contribution to the grid continues to be lower, apart from specific events.
No wonder, since their load factor, that is to say the average operating rate, did not exceed 35% in 2021, when that of the atomic power plants amounted to 93%, according to data from the EIA. Thus, the American agency does not expect that the monthly production of wind turbines ” exceeds coal or nuclear generation for any month in 2022 or 2023 “.
In addition, the production of electricity from fossil gas, which is mainly obtained by hydraulic fracturing on the other side of the Atlantic, remained the main source of electricity on March 29, with 3,287 GWh supplied to the network – i.e. say more than 1,000 GWh more than wind, according to the EIA’s Hourly Electric Grid Monitor. While wind power is carving out a place of choice in the American electricity mix, it is not yet close to eclipsing fossil fuels, which still largely dominate.