SPP Becomes First U.S. Grid Operator to Record Greater Than 50% Wind Penetration

A large swath of the central U.S. set a North American wind penetration record of 52.1% early in the morning on February 12, the Southwest Power Pool (SPP) reported.

The regional transmission organization (RTO), whose footprint spans 550,000 square miles from the Canadian border in Montana and North Dakota to parts of New Mexico, Texas, and Louisiana in the south, has seen a surge of installed wind capacity recently. In 2016 alone, it increased its capacity by 30%—from 12 GW to more than 16 GW. The RTO said that its wind generation peak also rose, from 9,948 MW in 2015 to 12,336 MW in early 2016.

The record is significant for SPP, which is now the first RTO in North America to serve more than 50% of its load at any given time with wind energy.

“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.”

According to Rew, SPP was able to manage the wind generation more effectively than smaller systems because it has a huge pool of resources to draw from. “With a footprint as broad as ours, even if the wind stops blowing in the upper Great Plains, we can deploy resources waiting in the Midwest and Southwest to make up any sudden deficits,” he said.

Rew noted that SPP has approved the construction of more than $10 billion in high-voltage transmission infrastructure over the last decade. Much of it is being built in the Midwest to connect rural isolated wind farms to population centers hundreds of miles away, he said.

Sonal Patel, associate editor (@POWERmagazine, @sonalcpatel)

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