Xcel Energy (NYSE: XEL), Colorado’s largest utility, recently set a national record when on April 15, almost 57 percent of its electricity was generated from wind power.
Although renewable energy has clearly been gaining ground nationwide, utilities have balked at allowing ‘too much’ renewable power onto their main grids, citing the unpredictable nature of most renewable power sources – particularly wind.
“A lot of utilities don’t want to contract large amounts of wind because it’s volatile,” said Amy Grace, a wind analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “Anything over 25%, and utilities get nervous.”
However, Colorado’s record-setting feat proves that it can be done.
And considering the U.S. currently sources a mere 3 percent of its total power from wind, the Colorado success also offers hope for a more comprehensive adoption of wind power across the country.
But of course, wind relies upon geography quite a bit, so not all states would be able to replicate Colorado’s generation — it is a very windy state. However, per a recent report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, several states should be able to produce even better results than Colorado thanks to stronger prevailing winds. These states include Wyoming, Montana, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Texas, and Oklahoma.
Xcel laid most of the responsibility on technological advances, pointing to proprietary advances in wind strength and duration prediction software.
It also credited the software it relies on to control wind farms—specifically programs that monitor wind strength and adjust wind turbine blade movements. The company’s internal system works closely across wind and conventional plants to balance distribution according to power needs, often increasing demand on one when the other faces a shortfall.
Wind power may be a very attractive resource, but initial investment costs are high. That’s why the federal government offers tax credits of up to 30 percent of initial costs. The downside is that these credits expire at the close of this year, and they haven’t yet been renewed.
But many states still have mandates in place, requiring utilities to purchase set fractions of their total needs from renewable sources.
A combination of state mandates, federal funding, and other incentives can provide a healthy framework for a national move toward more reliance on renewable power.