World’s greatest wind success story. Happening because of natural gas

Imagine the celebration if even a single European country exceeded 50% of power generation from wind. On Twitter at least, we would never hear the end of it. Who needs onshore natural gas when we have so much wind would be the inevitable conclusion, an interpretation widely distributed to the Fourth Estate and the other temporal powers.   That would lead  aside of course that two thirds of natural gas, now imported even from the high carbon/zero tax Peruvian Amazon Rain Forest in deference to our own low carbon/high tax resources, is used not in generation but for domestic heating and industry. But the milestone is very significant all the same. It’s, as far as I’m concerned, a fantastic breakthrough.

This should be great news: The 52% share of wind generating electricity the other morning in the US South West Power Pool is inarguably an incredible achievement:

 Wind briefly powered more than 50 percent of electric demand on Sunday, the 14-state Southwest Power Pool (SPP) said, for the first time on any North American power grid.

SPP coordinates the flow of electricity on the high voltage power lines from Montana and North Dakota to New Mexico, Texas and Louisiana.

Wind power in the SPP region has grown significantly to over 16,000 MW currently from less than 400 megawatts in the early 2000s and is expected to continue growing. One megawatt can power about 1,000 homes.

“Ten years ago, we thought hitting even a 25 percent wind-penetration level would be extremely challenging, and any more than that would pose serious threats to reliability,” SPP Vice President of Operations Bruce Rew said in a statement.

“Now we have the ability to reliably manage greater than 50 percent wind penetration. It’s not even our ceiling,” Rew said.

Wind power briefly reached 52.1 percent at 4:30 a.m. local time on Sunday, SPP said on Monday, beating the previous penetration milestone of 49.2 percent. Wind penetration is a measure of the amount of total load served by wind at a given time.

It’s interesting how wind opponents and shale opponents could well be equally dismissive, but for different reasons. Wind opponents and climate change deniers, often if not always the same metric,  would rush to add that 430 AM Sunday is hardly a peak period. Consider also that while the 575,000 square mile SWPO area has a larger area than the UK, Ireland, Belgium, Netherlands, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, and Denmark combined, it is home to just 18 million people not the 280 million in the European states.

What can’t be avoided is how he figure of 11gWH is truly impressive. Because the area is more rural than urban, there’s likely to be a higher use for heat than in most of Europe. Especially in that wind chill.

The Wind Industry in Europe for comparison on the next day could only muster 1.1 gWh in all of Europe including 185mWh off shore, and option the central United States doesn’t have.

If the US percentage happened in even the smallest state in Europe, as happens from time to time offshore Denmark, the howl of the wind would be as nothing next to the self-congratulatory roar, the whooping and the shouting and the hollering of those, being a classic example, who oppose shale gas because they see it as a threat to renewables. 1010 are rather typically noisier than their numbers suggest, but that doesn’t stop them signalling their virtue to bystanders.

But, the rather obvious but, is that the wind record happened alongside massive onshore natural gas resources. Quite apart from the Marcellus, Utica and other gas fields,  Oklahoma, Arkansas North Texas and of course the North Dakota Bakken have huge shale gas resources which have only recently were developed.  Additionally, until the shale era, the Hugoton Gas Field in Kansas was the eighth  largest “conventional” gas field in the world and produces  still 70 years after being discovered.

So it could be said, but won’t be by European wind proponents, that abundant and cheap US gas (52% of European gas prices on the same day) isn’t preventing wind from being successful.  Because to them it gets worse: Cheap wind is happening BECAUSE of cheap natural gas.  Thus, wind and gas are not enemies, but natural partners in combatting climate change.

Well.That’s embarrassing. Too embarrassing for anyone in Europe to mention. The European narrative is too often a simplistic Leave It In The Ground slogan wrapped in an inability to see gas as anything other than just another fossil fuel.

Many Europeans, who know little and think less about natural gas, present with symptoms of the world’s largest case of Pluralistic Ignorance, a fancy name for the social psychology version of the Emperor’s New Clothes:

Pluralistic ignorance is a situation in which a majority of group members privately reject a norm, but incorrectly assume that most others accept it, and therefore go along with it. This is also described as “no one believes, but everyone thinks that everyone believes.” In short, pluralistic ignorance is a bias about a social group, held by that social group.

Pluralistic ignorance may help to explain the bystander effect. If no-one acts, onlookers may believe others believe action is incorrect, and may therefore themselves refrain from acting.

I’m in the natural gas business, and proud to be so.  I have nothing against any other fuel, except coal.  I’m as green as everyone else.   But I refuse to be a bystander.

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