I am fed up with rent-seeking capitalists and naïve academics who claim that wind, water, and solar resources are the only ones needed to provide reliable electric power. This post shows by way of example that this is an unrealistic argument.
My primary focus over the last several years has been New York’s the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (Climate Act). Robert W. Howarth authored sections of the Climate Act and was a member of the Climate Action Council that is responsible for preparing the Scoping Plan that outlines how to “achieve the State’s bold clean energy and climate agenda.” . He submitted a statement supporting the Scoping Plan that exemplifies the narrative that no new technology is needed:
I further wish to acknowledge the incredible role that Prof. Mark Jacobson of Stanford has played in moving the entire world towards a carbon-free future, including New York State. A decade ago, Jacobson, I and others laid out a specific plan for New York (Jacobson et al. 2013). In that peer-reviewed analysis, we demonstrated that our State could rapidly move away from fossil fuels and instead be fueled completely by the power of the wind, the sun, and hydro. We further demonstrated that it could be done completely with technologies available at that time (a decade ago), that it could be cost effective, that it would be hugely beneficial for public health and energy security, and that it would stimulate a large increase in well-paying jobs. I have seen nothing in the past decade that would dissuade me from pushing for the same path forward. The economic arguments have only grown stronger, the climate crisis more severe. The fundamental arguments remain the same.
I addressed Howarth’s claim and others in his statement in a post here late last year. I include this because it exemplifies the idea that wind, sun, and hydro can power New York’s electric grid completely. In this post I consider the challenge of using wind, solar, and hydro to replace one component of the NY grid – New York City’s existing fossil fired units
According to the New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) Gold Book the New York City (Zone J) fossil generation summer capability in 2022 was 9,026 MW. This represents the capacity needed to replace New York City’s fossil generation capacity at any hour. For the purposes of this thought experiment I am going to ignore reliability rules related to transmission constraints and in-city generation. I assume only that New York City needs dedicated availability of 9,026 MW. There is no chance that an additional 9,026 MW of hydro can be developed in New York and there is no guarantee that the amount of capacity will only be needed during the day which means we cannot use solar. This example estimates how much wind capacity from somewhere will be needed to provide this dedicated capacity requirement.
New York Wind Variability
In May 2022 I published Climate Act and New York State 2021 Wind Resources that evaluated New York State onshore wind availability. I used a New York Independent System Operator (NYISO) resource that provides 2021 wind production and 2021 wind curtailment. The data sets list the hourly total wind production and curtailments for the entire New York Control Area (NYCA). I have summarized the data in the following table. Curtailments are those hours when the system load is small enough that wind production is greater than what is needed so the wind power is curtailed, i.e., not used.
Table 1: NYISO 2021 Hourly Wind Production at the Aggregated NYCA-Wide Level
These data are representative of every wind energy resource data set I have ever seen. See, for example, analyses for Belgium by Michel at the Trust Yet Verify website or for Australia by Anton Lang. The crux of the problem is that low-energy density wind resources are highly correlated across wide areas. Across New York, and other regions, the wind speeds drop across the entire area frequently. Frequently, as in every time a high-pressure system crosses over the area. As a result, the mean annual average availability for all the NYCA onshore wind turbines is only 22% and the median is 16%.
Moreover, I believe it is unlikely that additional sources in a region will change the availability much. I do not expect any significant change to the low-end onshore wind numbers when all the land-based wind resources proposed to meet the Climate Act net-zero transition are developed. The overall distribution of expected offshore wind will be similar although the numbers will show slightly higher availability.
Wind variability has implications on the use of wind energy to replace firm dispatchable generation. I use these data as a starting point for this analysis to explain why the fact that the wind is always blowing somewhere does not mean it can be used cost-effectively to replace dispatchable fossil-fired generating in an electric grid that relies on wind and solar as claimed by Dr. Howarth and others.
To estimate the wind resources needed to replace New York City’s 9,026 MW of existing fossil-fired generation I will use the distribution of New York land-based wind with the following assumptions. In the absence of offshore observed wind energy historical data, I assumed that the wind production would be increased by a five-percentile category from the onshore wind distributions. In other words, when the onshore wind is at the 75% percentile capacity availability level, I assumed that offshore wind resources are at the 80% capacity level.
Table 2 estimates the amount of land-based or offshore wind capacity from the New York Control Area necessary to replace New York City’s 9,026 MW fossil capacity. Because the observed wind production capability at the 99th percentile is 78%, 11,563 MW of wind turbine capacity are needed (9,026 divided by 78%) to assure replacement of the existing fossil-fired units in New York City. For reliability support the wind resources must be able to cover all the levels of wind resource availability. Half of the time (50th percentile) 55,068 MW of capacity would be needed. In order to ensure reliability, wind capacity must be available at all hours but the wind capacities at the lower end of the distribution are unrealistic so a system dependent upon only wind energy is going to have to go wherever the wind is blowing. The proponents of the wind is always blowing somewhere respond that all New York must do is to import electricity from outside the NYCA to address this but have not used this kind of distribution to determine how much, from how far, would be necessary
Table 2: NYCA Wind Capacity Support Requirements to Replace NYC Fossil – 9,026 MW
To determine how much wind capacity is needed outside of New York, I first determined the
potential wind energy availability within the New York Control Area (NYCA). For capacity potential I used the larger capacity projections for land-base and offshore wind from two different modeling analyses. The offshore wind capacity (MW) in the Integration Analysis Scenario 2: Strategic Use of Low-Carbon Fuels was 12,675 MW. The onshore wind capacity in the NYISO 2021-2040 System & Resource Outlookwas 19,087 MW. Table 3 uses those resource projections to provide estimates of the available energy in the NYCA at each resource potential level. For each percentile I calculated the available capacity at each percentile for on-shore and offshore wind, summed them, and listed the deficit if the sum was less than 9,026 MW. For this thought experiment, the projected wind resources can replace the fossil resources up to the 70th percentile if all the wind power can be dedicated just to New York City at the hour when 9,026 MW of wind capacity is needed in the City. This means that somewhere between 65% and 70% of the time, wind resources outside the NYCA must provide additional power to replace New York City’s existing fossil resources.
Table 3: NYCA Wind Energy Available from Climate Act Wind Resource Projections
Table 4 provides an estimate of the wind generated capacity available to cover the deficit margin in Table 3 outside the control area in an area similar in size and characteristics to the NYCA 500 miles away from New York City. For this thought experiment I assumed that the wind capacity at any hour in this region would be at a production percentile 25% higher than the corresponding NYCA percentile. I believe that there is higher level of spatial correlation than those who believe that the wind is always blowing somewhere acknowledge. In this example, when NYCA wind levels are at the 65th percentile I presume that 500 miles away the wind resource will be at the 90th percentile. Because I believe that wind in all regions of a similar size to New York will exhibit the same wind distribution pattern, a key takeaway is that wind resources 500 miles away are insufficient to always provide support when power outside the NYCA is needed. The 500-mile resources only cover the NYCA deficit down to 55th NYCA percentile corresponding to the 500-mile 80th percentile. We must go out at least another 500 miles for reliable power.
Table 4: Wind Resource Availability from 10,000 MW of Turbines 500 Miles from NYC
Table 5 provides an estimate of the additional wind generated capacity needed outside the control area in an area 1000 miles away from New York City. I assumed that the wind capacity at any hour would be at a production percentile 50% higher than the corresponding NYCA percentile. In this example, when NYCA wind levels are at the 50th percentile I presume that 1000 miles away the wind resource will be at the maximum level of 86%. Importantly, this assumption is the same as assuming there is no correlation between NYCA wind and 1000- mile wind. I do assume that the correlation has the same directionality. In other words, winds in both regions go down at the same time. Of course, it is more complicated because “somewhere else” winds could go up when NYCA winds go down. In order to address that issue an analysis for the entire onshore and offshore wind resource availability is needed.
The 1000-mile resource availabilities s cover the NYCA deficit down to 25th NYCA percentile and the 1000-mile 75th percentile so we must go out another 500 miles to assure replacement of the existing fossil generation.
Table 5: Wind Resource Availability from 10,000 MW of Turbines 1000 Miles from NYC
Table 6 provides an estimate of the additional wind generated capacity needed within NYCA and the 500- and 1000-mile resource areas in an area 1500 miles away from New York City. I assumed that the wind capacity at any hour would be at a production percentile 75% higher than the corresponding NYCA percentile. In this example, when NYCA wind levels are at the 5th percentile I presume that 1000 miles away the wind resource will be at the 80th percentile. Even the addition of these resources is insufficient to cover all the power needed by New York City existing fossil resources. However, it is so close that adding another 1,049 MW of capacity in any of the regions would assure that New York City’s existing fossil generation could be replaced by resources where” the wind is always blowing”.
Table 6: Wind Resource Availability 1500 Miles from NYC
The forgoing analysis confirms that the wind is indeed always blowing somewhere and that wind energy resources could replace the existing fossil generation in New York City as suggested by Howarth and others However, just because it is possible does not mean it is feasible. The fatal flaw is that New York City requires dedicated resources to replace existing generation when it is needed to keep the lights on. This is particularly important because the high pressure systems that characterize low wind availability over large areas also are associated with hottest and coldest periods of the year when the electric load peaks and the need for reliable power is the greatest.
Existing fossil generation capacity in New York City totals 9,026 MW. New York’s Climate Act projected onshore and offshore wind planned capacity is 31,762 MW. Relying on wind only requires another 30,000 MW located “somewhere else”. The fatal flaw to the wind blowing “somewhere else” argument for New York City is that those resources must be dedicated to New York City. The idea that anyone could afford to build 10,000 MW and 500 mile transmission lines for use as backup that will only be used 65% of the time, another 10,000 MW and 1,000 mile transmission lines for backup 50% of the time, and another 10,000 MW with 1,00 mile transmission lines for backup 25% of the time is disconnected from reality.
Of course, there are suggestions that the surplus power could be stored in batteries or used to make “green hydrogen” to address the low wind availability problem. However, Howarth claimed that New York “could rapidly move away from fossil fuels and instead be fueled completely by the power of the wind, the sun, and hydro” and that “it could be done completely with technologies available at that time (a decade ago) and that that it could be cost effective”. This simple analysis suggests otherwise.
I agree with Francis Menton who has argued that we need a demonstration project to prove all the wind, solar, and energy storage components necessary for a zero-emissions electric grid that does not rely on nuclear power can work. In addition, I believe that a comprehensive analysis of wind and solar resource availability across the continent that addresses the correlation and energy density deficiencies of wind and solar is also needed. Based on my work, I think that this sort of analysis would show the need for far more resources than anyone is contemplating at this time.
Roger Caiazza blogs on New York energy and environmental issues at Pragmatic Environmentalist of New York. This represents his opinion and not the opinion of any of his previous employers or any other company with which he has been associated.