The location of a wind farm can play a key role in the potential for wind energy to add or detract from stability on the electric grid, according to researchers at North Carolina State University and Johns Hopkins University. The paper, released this month,  notes that some wind farms, because of their location and the fact that wind generators differ from conventional generator systems, might actually worsen instability when there are disturbances on the grid, increasing the risk of power outages; others, in turn, could bolster the grid if sited in favorable locations. (See related quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Wind Energy.”)

The paper’s authors detail a technique employing controllers to moderate the flow of wind power coming onto the grid by matching control efforts between wind farms and energy storage facilities. “By matching the behavior of the two controllers, we can produce the desired damping effect on the power flow and restore stable grid behavior,” said senior author Aranya Chakrabortty in a release about the paper. (See related story: “New ‘Flexible’ Power Plants Sway to Keep Up With Renewables.”)

The researchers point out that their system can be put to use regardless of where the turbines and batteries are located, making it applicable in decentralized systems over large geographical areas.

Though wind energy accounts for just a small percentage of U.S. electricity generation as a whole (3.4 percent in 2012), it is growing by leaps and bounds: the added electricity generation capacity for wind in 2012 was larger than for any other source, and is expected to grow by nearly 50 percent between 2015 and 2040, according to the Energy Information Administration.

Meanwhile, creative minds around the world are exploring ways to store surplus wind energy when the breeze generates more than the grid can handle. Ideas for storage vessels range from rock reservoirs to frozen fish. (See related stories: “Too Much Wind Energy? Save It in Underground Volcanic Rock Reservoirs” and “Frozen Fish Help Reel In Germany’s Wind Power.”)

Note: This post has been modified to reflect that wind farm location and equipment, not wind variability, were the key factors in the destabilizing effect researchers sought to correct.


  1. Christina Nunez
    January 6, 2014, 11:13 am

    Michael, thank you for your comment. After contacting the university and verifying that the press release was changed after this was published, I have updated the post and added a note to that effect.

  2. Michael Goggin, AWEA
    January 4, 2014, 11:38 am

    Christina, you should take this article down or significantly revise it immediately, as NC State has taken down their press release to correct the errors in how it presented the study’s findings. In personal correspondence with the study author yesterday, he acknowledged that wind energy’s variability had nothing to do with the study’s results, which is the central claim you make in your article. Wind energy variability is simply too small and slow that have that type of impact. I’d be happy to forward those emails to you if you’d like. NC State is working to correct their press release, which when corrected I expect will highlight what were actually the study’s positive findings about how wind energy can further contribute to reliability by mitigating grid disturbances.

    Michael Goggin
    American Wind Energy Association

  3. John Goese
    Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
    January 3, 2014, 3:45 pm

    Rock reservoirs? Frozen fish?

    Engineers in Europe have already developed and are using computer software that anticipates predicted changes in wind speed and direction, so that 3 – 5 days in the future, the turbine rotor blades adjust their pitch level so as not to overload the grid with excess unneeded electricity. Massive storage facilities will not be needed.

    The Europeans installed offshore wind in 1991. In the U.S., we’re just getting started with offshore wind farms, since we know that at 500′ feet above the ocean surface, the winds are much stronger and consistent than in onshore locations.

    The Europeans are way ahead of us.