One early morning this past April, as the sun was slowly making its way to the eastern horizon of Colorado, history was made. Again.
For the second time in less than a year, Xcel Energy broke a world record for wind capacity on its system at 57 percent. The previous record of 55.6 percent was also set by Xcel Energy in October 2011.
Right Time. Right Place.
While 57 percent is an impressive number, there’s a reason why the record was set in the wee morning hours. At that time, system demand is typically low. Because of this, it isn’t necessary to rely on the entire generation system for power. Therefore, if the wind is blowing hard and demand is low, we can ramp up our wind generation and reduce our other operations.
Yet while we had seemingly ideal conditions to reach such a mark, it didn’t just happen by accident.
“We are very proud of this accomplishment,” said Steve Mudd, product manager for Xcel Energy’s Windsource program. “Achieving 57 percent is amazing, and it has taken a lot of hard work to reach such a record. But this is just one more milestone, and we are continually working to improve.”
One key to achieving such a high capacity for wind is having the flexibility to rely on a variety of energy generation options, including wind, solar and natural gas, as well as the experience to understand how to utilize a diverse portfolio.
We’ve also learned that for wind to be effective, geographic diversity is good, too. For instance, especailly if the wind is blowing in one part of the state and not in another (which is commonplace). It balances itself out.
But the most important factor to achieving these numbers is forecasting. The National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) continues to provide us with the ability to quickly adapt to changes in the weather. With current technology, wind farms can be remotely turned off or down in real time. In addition, as Xcel Energy shifts to more natural gas plants – which have more flexibility to ramp up and down – we have an even greater ability to make the best choices for our customers.
We’re (Still) Number One
Customers have heard us boasting about our position as “The Nation’s Number One Wind Provider” for years. And while we may sound like a broken record, the fact is, we’re going on eight years with that ranking, and we’re proud of that distinction.
But there is a reason why wind – and the world record – is so important to our customers. Our goal is to provide environmentally sound, safe and reliable energy at a reasonable cost. Adding wind to our portfolio helps us achieve our goals.
What’s more, adding wind to our energy portfolio has not driven up rates. In fact, it has helped us to continue to reduce costs. Simply put, having a variety of energy options gives us the ability to make the smartest choices for our customers.
Relying on the Unreliable
According to Mudd, these world records also help dismiss the long-held criticism of wind’s unreliability. “What each of our world records shows is that while wind is intermittent, it can be relied upon. And as we continue to bring more wind onto our system, we hope to become smarter and more efficient.”
With the many tools in place and the experience to use them, it seems we actually do have the power to know which way the wind will blow.