I love the wind. For many years, one of my very favorite hobbies was sailing on large boats. I was never rich enough to own my own boat. I always depended on the kindness of others to provide the equipment that I needed in order to indulge in my ever fascinating and challenging hobby. By way of confession, the kindness I normally depended upon was yours – if you are a US taxpayer. Most of my sailing excursions took place on specially designed, midshipman-proof, Navy 44’s.
One of the things that kept my attention and interest in this hobby for so many years was the fact that the wind is always changing. That makes it a wonderful power source when you have no real place to go other than around a race course with a simple goal of making it around the bouys faster than everyone else in the race.
Some days were great fun in which we changed the sails a half a dozen or more times and where we buried the leeward rails in the water despite having every crew member hanging hanging as far out as we could on the windward side of the boat.
On other days, we could toss Cheetos into the water and watch them drift past our stalled boat, which was bobbing aimlessly with dozens of others on a calm, glassy surface. On those days, we could be deafened by the “thwacketa, thwacketa” of empty sails banging against the mast, boom and rigging every time we were rocked by the wake of a passing stink boat.
I learned a lot during my sailing days about seamanship, navigation, weather prediction, and leadership. I also learned that I NEVER wanted to depend on the wind if I had to be someplace at a particular time or if I wanted to move a lot of cargo from one place to another. On a similar note, I learned that the wind makes a lousy power source in a system that needs to be reliable.
I just read a great article titled Ontario’s new dilemma: Too much power about some of the challenges that Ontario is having in integrating large amounts of wind into its grid. Don’t let the headline fool you – the story is really about a grid that is at risk of dangerous instability caused by having too little control over the sources of power because the wind blows on a schedule that no human can control.
For some completely unfathomable reason, turbine owners are guaranteed a price of 13.5 cents per kilowatt hour that they produce, even if there is no market for that power. As the grid operators begin to resist the notion that they need to transport whatever the turbine operators can produce, even if there is no willing buyer, the turbine operators are getting nervous.
“We need to integrate the wind generation,” says Campbell. “We want to be able to dispatch wind just as we do other generation.”
Potentially, that means having to tell a wind farm operator that we only need two-thirds of the power it is likely to produce today or tomorrow.
One of the issues Campbell is now discussing with the power industry is how to do that. If someone gets shut out, who is it to be, and what, if anything, should they get paid?
That’s a crucial question for wind farms, says Robert Hornung, president of the Canadian Wind Energy Association (CanWEA).
Hornung acknowledges that as wind power increases, the rules will change.
“There’s always been a strong desire among system operators to ensure that wind ultimately will be treated like other forms of generation.”
But he says his members have to know what the new rules are if their output is put on hold.
“Is there any compensation? If there is, what formula is that based on? Those details really matter,” he said.
My message to wind turbine owners is this. Welcome to market reality. When buyers do not need or want your product, you better figure out how to store it or stop producing it when they say “uncle.” It is simply unacceptable to expect the customers to pay you even if they REALLY do not want what you are selling.