Wind energy in America continues to surge, with latest figures revealing 14 states served by the Southwest Power Pool received more than half their electricity from wind alone on February 12.
The record wind power contribution of 52.1 percent was reached at 4.30am on Sunday (local time), making it the first ever regional transmission organisation (RTO) in the continental U.S. to provide 50 percent of its load with wind power.
It beats SSP’s previous North American RTO record for wind penetration of 49.2 percent, set in April last year.
The area covered by the RTO is vast, stretching from the icy north of Montana and North Dakota on the Canadian border, to parts of New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana in the south. In 2000, the entire region contained less than 400 MW of wind generation, but focused investment on high voltage transmission infrastructure saw that capacity grow to more than 12,300 MW in early 2016.
“Ten years ago, we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability,” SPP Vice President of Operations Bruce Rew said.
“Since then, we’ve gained experience and implemented new policies and procedures. Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent wind penetration. It’s not even our ceiling. We continue to study even higher levels of renewable, variable generation as part of our plans to maintain a reliable and economic grid of the future.”
The SSP data comes days after it was announced that American wind power has outstripped hydropower to become the nation’s largest source of renewable energy by installed generating capacity.
U.S. installed wind capacity now stands at 82,000 MW, propelling it up the ranks to fourth place in the generation stakes, behind natural gas, coal and nuclear power.
According to the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA), wind now supplies 5.5 percent of electricity to U.S. consumers – the equivalent of 24 million homes.
Wind manufacturing is providing an employment boom across the country, with the role of wind technician now the fastest growing profession in the USA. The industry body reports 100,000 people are now employed in the sector in over 500 wind-related factories in various states.
An earlier report from the US Department of Energy put the total at 101,738 wind industry workers at the end of 2016, a 32 percent increase over 2015.
“These jobs are going right where they’re needed most,” the AWEA blog post states.
“In the Rust Belt, wind brings back new manufacturing. For example, Ohio leads the U.S. with over 60 wind power factories, while Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania boast 26 apiece. Altogether, over 25,000 Americans now have wind manufacturing jobs. More than 99 percent of wind farm capacity is installed in rural areas, with the majority in counties that fall below the poverty line.”