The Intermittency Issue
US Wind Energy Stuck in the Doldrums

The U.S. installed nearly 10 percent more wind production capacity over the last year, so why is output down 6 percent so far this year? As the FT reports, the answer may be as simple as, “it hasn’t been as windy.” 2015 has been one of the least windy years in around 40 years, according to the paper.

“We never anticipated a drop-off in the wind resource as we have witnessed over the past six months,” David Crane, chief executive of power producer NRG Energy, told analysts…

And El Niño is expected to keep wind speeds slow in the opening months of 2016, which means that this trend will persist into next year. Slightly slower wind speeds are no small problem, either. The Energy Information Administration explains that “[b]ecause the output from a turbine varies nonlinearly with wind speed, small decreases in wind speeds can result in much larger changes in output.” In other words, even a small dip in velocity can have outsized consequences for the renewable source.

This exemplifies one of the biggest challenges renewables face: intermittency. Solar panels will obviously struggle to produce electricity on cloudier days, and wind turbines require a minimum air speed before it even makes sense to turn them on. But consumers aren’t going to stop relying on electricity when the wind dies down or the day becomes cloudy, and, lacking any cost-effective storage options for renewables, we’re once again left with the undeniable fact that fossil fuels are a necessary cornerstone of modern society. Greens will be loathe to admit it, but solar and wind energy require a more consistent baseload partner.

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