Coal-fired power stations are baseload. This means, from an electrical perspective, they are relatively inflexible. In other words it is expensive for them to respond to rapid changes in net electricity demand. For this reason it has been said that Saskatchewan, which relies on coal for about half of all its electricity, is ill-suited to the significant adoption of wind energy. Indeed this logic has been used by some (no names mentioned) to justify inaction to date.  What better way to test that claim than by looking at the experience of others?

As it happens five US states which, in the last 15 years have transitioned to being major users of wind energy, are also significant users of coal. They are North Dakota, Iowa, Kansas, Oklahoma and South Dakota. When these states started their transition to wind in 2002, every single one of them was generating more of their electricity from coal than Saskatchewan does today. 

Source: US Energy Information Administration - Electricity Data Browser. SaskPower Annual Reports. Note US EIA generation stats are reported monthly by state whereas SaskPower generation information is only reported annually hence is shown at lower resolution than the US data.

So - and given the large amount of inflexible coal baseload they were using - how did that transition go for them?

Very well as it happens;

Source:  US Energy Information Administration - Electricity Data Browser. SaskPower Annual Reports. Note US EIA generation stats are reported monthly by state whereas SaskPower generation information is only reported annually hence is shown at lower resolution than for the individual states

The chart above really speaks for itself. None of those states report problems with reliability and all have significant plans for further expansion of wind energy. Indeed most recently Iowa announced the largest wind project in North America which, once commissioned in 2019, will see the Hawkeye State generating 45 percent of its electricity with wind turbines.
The message: there are no obvious technical reasons why regions which are heavily dependent on inflexible coal baseload cannot also rapidly adopt wind energy.

Another myth busted.

What will they think of next?  


Posted
AuthorJames Glennie