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NREL Research Proves Wind Can Provide Ancillary Grid Fault Response

April 1, 2016


When the Energy Department commissioned a 1.5-megawatt (MW) wind turbine in 2009, it became a key player in improving the performance and lowering the costs of wind energy systems. In 2015, researchers at the National Wind Technology Center (NWTC) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado, connected the 300-foot-tall turbine to the controllable grid interface (CGI) test facility, which simulates the real-time conditions of a utility-scale power grid. This began an ongoing, Energy Department-funded research effort to test how wind turbines can remain connected to the grid during short periods of grid failure.

Why is this research important?

When a large electricity-generating plant (whether gas-burning, coal-burning, nuclear, or hydropower) shuts down, the frequency of the electric power grid drops due to an imbalance between generation and load. As a result, utility operators must increase the power output of generators at other conventional power plants to stabilize the frequency.

Through this research, NREL is evaluating the potential of wind farms to provide frequency-responsive back-up or "ancillary services" currently supplied to the grid by conventional power plants. That's where the future is going.

NREL is using the Energy Department's 1.5-MW turbine for this effort because it's the most common wind turbine in the country and will demonstrate results that can be considered typical and can be applied widely to many of today's wind farms.

The NWTC is the only facility in the world where this research is conducted at a multimegawatt scale under controlled grid conditions. The CGI provides a unique environment where wind turbine vendors can test their equipment under any possible grid fault condition.

Researchers such as Mark McDade, project manager for grid integration at the NWTC, and Vahan Gevorgian, NREL technical lead, can experiment with various grid conditions and test how utility-scale wind turbines can provide ancillary services for enhanced grid reliability.

For the energy industry, this ability helps save time and resources while minimizing integration issues, improving reliability, and advancing development of grid-friendly renewable and emerging energy technologies.

Together, Energy Department's 1.5-MW turbine and the CGI are proving to be a winning research combination, helping stabilize electric grids to drive down costs, increase wind power installations, and create a renewable energy economy in the United States. Learn more about the Energy Department's Wind Program.