The Impact of Wind Energy on the California Grid

By Consulting Specifying Engineer Staff May 24, 2006

GE Energy, Atlanta, Ga., has signed a contract with the University of California to study the impact that higher levels of intermittent renewable power generation, such as wind energy, will have on the state’s power grid.

Goals for the project include ensuring grid reliability and quality and accommodating emerging markets for renewable generation, including both wind and solar energy. The California Energy Commission’s Public Interest Energy Research program (PIER) is funding the project.

In 2004 and 2005 GE Energy performed a similar study of the New York State power grid to assess how intermittent renewable (specifically wind) generation, at varying capacities and locations, would impact system reliability, transmission planning and operations, and power market administration in New York State.Since it was released, the study has become the de facto precedent for renewable power planning throughout the United States and has been referred to by industry experts as “landmark” and “the most comprehensive wind integration assessment conducted to date in the United States.”

This type of study is essential in any given state before a large number of renewable generation facilities are built.Project manager Richard Piwko of GE Energy explains: “The unique impacts of wind energy need to be fully understood to protect and manage a given state’s power system. For example, grid operators need to schedule the amount of electricity delivered at a given time to match the grid’s load.The supply of wind energy is difficult to schedule accurately due to wind’s fluctuating nature.”

One of the factors GE has been commissioned to evaluate is how power plants and power grid operators can compensate for those fluctuations.

GE’s technical experts will work in tandem with a team of industry experts, assembled by PIER and the California Wind Energy Collaborative, to perform the study.They will evaluate operation of the state’s power grid, first with existing renewable resources and then with three increasing levels of additional renewable resources.The project will span about 16 months.

Upon its completion, the study will provide recommendations on operational, financial, market and policy considerations for integrating renewable energy into the California grid.

California leads the U.S. in the development of wind power. At the end of 2005, the state had 2,150 MW of installed wind capacity, according to the American Wind Energy Association.