In response to the recent freeze-inspired power outages in Texas, some politicians have blamed the historic power outages on wind turbines. The dubious and widely rejected claims, however, have highlighted an intriguing fact: Texas, the land made famous by derricks and wildcatters, now derives a significant part of its electricity from clean and renewable sources, including wind, but also from water and solar. —A sustainability troika known collectively as WWS.
“Texas derives about 20% of its electricity from wind alone,” says Mark Z. Jacobson, a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Stanford University and principal investigator at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, author of a new study that is being published. Smart Energy on the future of smart grids.
Jacobson used computer models to show that wind turbines, on average in large areas, increase their power during cold waves, when the demand for home and professional heating is highest.
In addition, it concludes that wind power – when combined with solar and hydro power, various energy storage systems and incentives for people to change the timing of part of their electricity consumption – could meet not only all electricity needs in the world, but all the total energy demand, every minute of such crises.
Jacobson’s research has examined the ability of low-cost renewable grids to meet global demand, including in the United States, during the coldest periods to avoid power outages. In particular, he wanted to answer a crucial question: can renewable energy do everything in the worst weather conditions? According to its model, there is a direct link between cold weather and wind power production. In other words, winds tend to increase as the weather cools, precisely as the demand for heat increases. Jacobson says wind generation doesn’t just withstand the coldest days, but actually increases when it’s most needed. When the weather gets the coldest, the wind warms up.
Applying these results to the real world, Jacobson believes that if all Texas wind turbines had been properly wintered or protected from extreme cold during the February 2021 freeze, they would have provided critical energy to Texans throughout the cold snap and helped avoid power outages.
The study also examined problems related to output stability. Winds do not blow continuously, and cloud cover and nightfall limit the reliability of solar energy. But according to Jacobson, wind and solar production is actually correlated in reverse and advantageous ways. Overall, when the wind is not blowing, the sun usually shines during the day. Conversely, when the sun’s rays are blocked by the storm’s cloud cover, the winds tend to rise, causing the turbines to spin.