Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=181452
Story Retrieval Date: 6/18/2013 11:42:50 PM CST
As electric vehicles start rolling out of showrooms, the wind energy industry is looking to capitalize on the drive for a new way to drive. At a conference Tuesday, the American Wind Energy Association said wind farms were best suited to accommodate increased demand on the electric grid from recharging electric car batteries.
“Just one 100-megawatt wind farm generates enough electricity in a year to power… 87,500 plug-in hybrid vehicles to drive 12,000 miles a year,” said Elizabeth Salerno, the wind association’s director of data and analysis.
But other experts say the U.S.’s existing power grid could accommodate 40 million electric vehicles if they were charged at night during off-peak hours. And with President Obama aiming for only 1 million electric vehicles by 2015, it will be a long time until more electricity is necessary.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, half of Illinois’ energy comes from nuclear power, more than any other state, compared to 4 percent from solar and wind energy combined.
While nuclear energy creates no emissions, it is still wasteful and unrealistic for grid expansion, argues Rob Gramlich, senior vice president for public policy at the wind association.
“We can build a wind project in a year, then build more later when you need it,” he said. “And you will have to consider all resources and the use of water.”
Energy expert Phil Flynn said he sees the connection between wind energy and electric cars, but thinks the wind industry is amplifying the benefits to attract investors. The organization is blowing “a little bit of hot air,” he said.
“I think they’re trying to tie the two because electric cars are very popular, and if you’re concerned about global warming enough to buy one, you probably care about wind energy,” he said. “It may be a viable part of our future, but to think that’s going to replace nuclear or natural gas is just crazy.”
In addition, the wind association cited recent unrest in the Middle East and resulting rising fuel costs to support its argument for massive wind farm construction. If half of the vehicles in the U.S. were plug-in electric hybrids powered by wind, the country could avoid purchasing 3 billion barrels of oil per year, Salerno said.
The strongest tie between electric vehicles and wind energy is actually oil prices, not the capacity of the grid, Flynn said.
“The best argument for investment in wind is high oil prices,” he said.
In 2009, wind power had the capacity to generate 35,000 megawatts of power with 10,000 of those megawatts coming from new turbine construction. Wind farm projects provided 39 percent of all new generating capacity around the country last year.
Illinois currently has 21 wind farms capable of producing 1,848 megawatts of electricity, and additional projects under construction that will produce 437 more. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the state is capable of producing 9,000 megawatts of wind power.