DOE explores potential of wind to stabilize grids



Dennis Schroeder/National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Jim Ahlgrimm has been a manager in the U.S. Department of Energy Wind and Water Power Technologies Office since 2002

When the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) commissioned a 1.5-megawatt (MW) wind turbine in 2009, it became a key player in our research to improve the performance and lower the costs of wind energy systems. In 2015, researchers at the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) near our National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado, connected the 300-foot-tall turbine to the controllable grid interface (CGI) test facility, which simulates the real-time conditions of a utility-scale power grid. This began an ongoing, DOE-funded research effort to test how wind turbines can remain connected to the grid during short periods of grid failure.

Why is this research important?

When a large electricity-generating plant (whether gas-burning, coal-burning, nuclear, or hydropower) shuts down, the frequency of the electric power grid drops due to an imbalance between generation and load. As a result, utility operators must increase the power output of generators at other conventional power plants to stabilize the frequency.

DOE researchers are evaluating the potential of wind farms to provide frequency-responsive back-up or “ancillary services” currently supplied to the grid by conventional power plants. That’s where the future is going. We’re using our 1.5-MW turbine for this effort because it’s the most common wind turbine in the country and will demonstrate results that can be considered typical and can be applied widely to many of today’s wind farms.

The NWTC is the only facility in the world where this research is conducted at a multi-megawatt scale under controlled grid conditions. The CGI provides a unique environment where wind turbine vendors can test their equipment under any possible grid fault condition.

Researchers such as Mark McDade, project manager for grid integration at the NWTC, and Vahan Gevorgian, NREL technical lead, can experiment with various grid conditions and test how utility-scale wind turbines can provide ancillary services for enhanced grid reliability.

For the energy industry, this ability helps save time and resources while minimizing integration issues, improving reliability, and advancing development of grid-friendly renewable and emerging energy technologies.

Together, DOE’s 1.5-MW turbine and the CGI are proving to be a winning research combination, helping stabilize electric grids and, by doing so, drive down costs, increase wind power installations, and create a renewable energy economy in the United States. Learn more about the U.S. Department of Energy's Wind Program.