Wind Power breezed past coal, nuclear, for the first time

Wind power was the No. 2 source for power generation in the U.S. for the first time ever on March 29, surpassing coal and nuclear power, the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) said Thursday.

Wind turbines in the continental U.S. produced 2,017 gigawatthours of electricity on the 29th, according to data from the EIA. While there have been days in the past when wind generation separately outpaced coal and nuclear generation, the 29th marked the first day that it surpassed both power sources.

Natural gas remained the top source of power generation on March 29, comprising 31 percent of power generation, followed by wind, nuclear and coal. The milestone comes a little more than two years after nationwide wind capacity outstripped nuclear capacity in September 2019. This did not immediately result in higher wind power output than nuclear, because wind generators are designed to run at lower capacity than nuclear generators.

The clock is ticking. The countdown gets louder.

Existing dams could supply electricity for 35 million homes — that’s right, no new dams!

Click to enlargeDanita Delimont/Getty

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the nation could increase its hydroelectric capacity 50 percent by 2050 without building new dams.

Rather, the new capacity would come from upgrading existing hydropower facilities with more efficient technology and by constructing hydropower storage facilities that pump water uphill into reservoirs during off-peak hours, when electricity is cheap. When demand and power prices spike, the water is released downhill through turbines to generate electricity.

Such a strategy could grow hydropower capacity from 101,000 megawatts to 150,000 megawatts by 2050, according to the report.

❝ “If this level of growth is achieved, benefits such as savings of $209 billion from avoided greenhouse gas emissions could be realized, of which $185 billion would be attributable to operation of the existing hydropower fleet,” said a Department of Energy spokesperson. “With this deployment level, more than 35 million average U.S. homes could be powered by hydropower in 2050.”…

…About 2,000 of the country’s dams produce power, supplying 6 percent of electricity demand…But hydropower’s growth has stalled because of aging infrastructure, concerns over environmental impacts on rivers and wildlife, and a rise in alternative renewable sources…

Jim Bradley, vice president of policy and government relations at conservation group American Rivers, said increasing hydropower could be a good thing environmentally.

“Typically, to get approval to upgrade existing dams with more efficient technology means they will have to consider the environmental performance at that site as well,” Bradley said. “So if they’re going to be improving them, they’ll be improving the environmental issues as well.”…

Still, hydropower could be key to ensuring that the power grid operates smoothly as more renewable but intermittent sources of energy come online.

Solar and wind power only produce energy when the sun is shining and the wind is blowing. To keep the lights on when solar and wind farms aren’t generating electricity, grid operators rely on carbon-spewing fossil fuel power plants. That’s where pumped storage comes into play: Reservoirs can act as giant batteries, storing energy generated by solar power plants and wind farms.

Nothing new, of course, about hydropower or pumped storage. The engineering has been a lock for centuries. The significant upgrades are in the actual power generation and digital control of both local and interconnected regional systems. None of this is beyond the understanding of builders or consumers.

Only politicians, especially those paid to pimp for fossil fuel, stand in the way.