Transmission and Wind Power

Content on this page is reproduced with permission of the American Wind Energy Association.

There are a number of reasons why America needs to invest in its power grid. A congested and obsolete power grid limits consumers’ access to lower cost power. A congested grid is also inefficient and prone to blackouts. These factors alone cost American consumers tens of billions of dollars per year in elevated electric rates and lost productivity. The U.S. Department of Energy has also identified transmission limitations as the largest obstacle to realizing the economic, environmental, and energy security benefits of obtaining 20% of our electricity from wind power. Currently, around 270,000 megawatts of proposed wind projects, more than enough to meet 20% of our electricity needs, are waiting in line to connect to the grid because there is not enough transmission capacity to carry the electricity they would produce.

Some of the best wind resources in the country are located in areas remote from the largest load centers and markets for electricity. By expanding and upgrading transmission systems, the nation could better access wind energy, which would be more easily moved from distant areas to population centers where electricity demand is greatest. Moreover, by facilitating the expansion and geographical dispersion of wind power across a wide area, an upgraded transmission grid improves the reliability of wind. When wind output is slowing at one location, it is usually increasing somewhere else. Thus, dispersed wind power compensates for short-term fluctuations.

Wind Turbine Operations and Maintenance

As wind power has become a mainstream generating technology, some utilities have chosen to own wind turbines themselves and take on some or all of the responsibility for operations & maintenance (O&M) for these generating assets. O&M presents unique and different challenges for utilities, including decisions on conducting activities with existing utility staff or outsourcing these activities or a blend of the two scenarios Wind turbines can provide large amounts of electricity, cleanly and reliably, at prices competitive with any other new electricity source—if they are properly operated and maintained.

The U.S. wind energy industry has installed more than 60,000 megawatts of wind projects, and has accumulated millions of hours of wind turbine operation and maintenance experience. As of the end of 2012, nearly $50 billion worth of wind installations in the U.S. were out of warranty, leaving the facility owner with the financial risk of providing cost-effective operation and maintenance. And in the next 18 years, the U.S. will require approximately 100,000 additional wind turbines to supply 20% of the nation’s electricity. The industry needs to develop, document, and share best practices and lessons-learned for operating wind projects at peak productivity, and profitably, for decades to come.

Over the next 18 years, the massive growth of wind power will require approximately 75,000 new highly-trained wind technicians. Operating and maintaining wind turbines requires workers to have extensive technical knowledge and safety training; sophisticated capabilities to diagnose component performance; knowledge and skills to schedule replacement components; and the ability to accommodate changing weather conditions. Utilities that choose to become involved with operating the turbines they own will need a pool of trained technicians. Many technical training programs have received the AWEA wind technician training program “Seal of Approval,” demonstrating the quality of their programs and their graduates.

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