Wind Power Helps Keep The USA’s Lights And Heat On


Some of the effects of the big chill that descended upon the USA this week have been mitigated by wind power.
Ultra cold air that is usually confined to the Arctic region by a wind called the polar vortex weakened, allowing the air to move south over the USA. Temperatures have been dropping as low as minus 37 degrees Celsius. 
These are temperatures we never see in Australia, so as some sort of comparison; most household freezers maintain temperatures from −23 to −18 °C.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), wind power played a critical role in keeping the lights on and people as network operators grappled with the task of keeping up with what has been record-breaking winter demand.
AWEA cites several examples, including an incident in Texas where 2,000 MW of wind output on Monday morning (local time) made up for outages at conventional power plants. 
In the Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states, a number of fossil fuel based power plants and two large nuclear power plants in Pennsylvania and Illinois failed unexpectedly. Again, wind output above 3,000MW helped avert what otherwise could have been a disaster.
In the Upper Midwest, the MISO grid operator benefited from wind energy output of around 8,000 MW.
According to AWEA’s Michael Goggin, wind energy also assisted during the event by offsetting natural gas consumption at gas-fired power plants, “keeping natural gas prices in check by making more natural gas available for building heat.”
The Polar Vortex weakening has occurred repeatedly in recent winters; although this year the effects on the USA have been particularly severe. The winds needed to keep the very cold air in the Arctic are driven by the difference in temperature between the Arctic and mid latitudes. This balance has been affected by rapidly increasing temperatures in the Arctic.