New insights into fluctuations of wind energy, with implications for engineering and policy


Windmills in the ocean. Photo: Sergiy Serdyuk/iStockphoto

The amount of energy generated by renewables fluctuates depending on the natural variability of resources at any given time. The sun isn’t always shining, nor is the wind always blowing, so traditional power plants must be kept running, ready to fill the energy gap at a moment’s notice. Because the grid has no storage, and unlike coal or nuclear, there is no control over the fluctuating production of renewable energy, the energy they produce has to be consumed straight away, or risk collapsing the electrical grid. On particularly windy days, for example, surges in power generated by wind turbines have been known to overwhelm the electrical grid, causing power outages. To avoid this, operators of large power plants sometimes resort to paying consumers to use electricity on particularly sunny and windy days when there is too much excess power in the system, in order to balance the supply and demand of energy at the grid.