The wind may be invisible, but its strength was evident early Sunday at Southwest Power Pool, which was supplying more than half of its wholesale electricity customers with wind-generated energy.
At 4:30 a.m., SPP became the first regional transmission organization in North America to provide more than 50 percent of its power load from wind energy.
Its wind-penetration percentage, as the measure is known, was 52.1 percent, beating a previous 49.2 percent record set last year.
Wind penetration is a measure of the amount of total load served by wind at a given time.
The milestone was significant for SPP, a nonprofit corporation that manages the electric grid and wholesale energy market for the central United States. As recently as 10 years ago, SPP, headquartered in Little Rock, considered even a goal of 25 percent unrealistic.
"Since then, we've gained experience and implemented new policies and procedures,” SPP Vice President of Operations Bruce Rew said in a news release. “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."
SPP has consistently grown its delivery of renewable energy over the last two decades. Once so insignificant as to be labeled under “other” sources of power, wind energy made up about 15 percent of the power pool’s 2016 fuel mix for electricity generation, third behind gas and coal.
Installed wind-generation capacity increased in 2016 alone by more than 30 percent, and SPP's maximum simultaneous wind generation peak rose from 9,948 megawatts in 2015 to 12,336 in early 2016.
“The successful deployment of wind and other renewables in SPP is made possible because of its geographic diversity and robust transmission system,” the news release said. The organization’s footprint covers almost 550,000 square miles from the Canadian border in Montana and North Dakota to parts of New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.
"We're able to manage wind generation more effectively than other, smaller systems can because we've got a huge pool of resources to draw from," Rew said. "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."
SPP has made major infrastructure investments over the last decade, approving construction of $10 billion in high-voltage transmission lines, many of them in the Midwest, connecting rural, isolated wind farms to cities hundreds of miles away.
"It's exciting to see the evolution of our efforts to maintain a reliable power grid," SPP President and CEO Nick Brown said. "It allows for very different generation patterns than we've historically experienced. But for new day-ahead unit commitment procedures and market processes for managing congestion across a single balancing authority in 14 states, these new records would not be possible."