Do wind turbines need backup?

It is common for opponents of wind power to state that wind turbines need substantial ‘backup’ plant on the grid for periods when there is no wind. This is far from true, as this
shows. Main factors necessitating significant reserve plant capacity are: (1) all forms of generation stop sometimes (e.g. unexpected and sudden outages of nuclear plant), and (2) the demand changes, sometimes suddenly (e.g. at the end of televised national sporting events). The reserve in place already is more than sufficient for UK wind power now and for the next 10 years at least.

See also related article in Wind Power Monthly. Key points:

  • Back-up is always provided for all power plants on a system, with or without wind
  • There is no need to build back-up for wind; existing power plants in any system provide the required back-up for all plants
  • Wind generation displaces fossil-fuel generation and some of those plants can be
    taken out of operation
  • As the penetration of wind increases in any power system, the volume of capacity that
    is operated at part load, ready to ramp up or down according to peaks in demand or unexpected generation shortfalls, increases slightly to maintain a consistent probability of security of supply
  • Since the volume of extra reserve when adding wind is modest so is the additional cost. Savings from wind replacing other generation are likely to more than cover that extra cost
  • The emissions saved by wind displacing fossil-fuel generation are far greater than any extra emissions from increased spinning reserve.

Further reading (in no particular order):

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