Advanced Energy Perspectives

NEWS: Wind and Solar Smash Records; Why One Kansas Utility is Going Big on EV Charging

Posted by Lexie Briggs

Feb 17, 2017 12:10:48 PM

    

missouri-wind-204973-edited.jpg

Image: Wind turbines in Missouri.

Somebody call Guinness! This week’s advanced energy headlines were huge—record breaking, even. From wind-generated electricity supplying more than half the central U.S. grid to the near doubling of U.S. solar installations, advanced energy is on the rise everywhere—including Kansas, where one utility is diving into EV charging headfirst.

Last Sunday, at 4:30 am, it was pretty windy in the area served by the Southwest Power Pool (SPP). As the wind blew, turbines in SPP territory spun, and 52.1% of energy needed was met by wind generation. As Megan Geuss, writing for Ars Technica points out, wind power is breaking records more and more frequently: SPP held the prior record of 49.2% in April 2016, breaking the record set by Texas-based ERCOT less than a month prior.

SPP is a Regional Transmission Organization, serving most of Kansas and Oklahoma, as well as areas within Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana, Missouri, Mississippi, and Nebraska. SPP also runs transmission lines all the way up and down the Great Plains, from Montana to Louisiana. In other words: prime wind territory. As more and more wind turbines are deployed, expect these records to continue to fall. 

“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’s 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.” 

Meanwhile, solar broke some records of is own. Greentech Media reports that, according to the upcoming U.S. Solar Market Insight report from the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) and GTM Research, 2016 was the U.S. solar market’s biggest year to date, with more than 14,600 MW of solar PV installed.

The solar capacity added in 2016 is almost double the year before: 2015 saw almost 7,500 MW of PV installed, which was, on its own, a new record. In fact, the solar market has been steadily growing, breaking a record for new installations each year since 2010. In 2016, solar ranked as the top source of new generation capacity, representing 39% of new capacity across all generation types. 

“What these numbers tell you is that the solar industry is a force to be reckoned with,” said Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and CEO, in an interview with Greentech Media. “Solar's economically winning hand is generating strong growth across all market segments nationwide, leading to more than 260,000 Americans now employed in solar.” 

Back in 2013, we asked, “Are EV Charging Stations Utilities?” highlighting the new challenges for regulators surrounding electric vehicle charging. PUCs were grappling with how to treat charging stations, and whether or not to allow utilities to integrate into the EV charging market.

Now, three and a half years later, we bring you the story of Kansas City Power & Light, which is deploying 1,000 charging stations in Kansas City. NPR reports that the $20 million Clean Charge Network project was launched two years ago, when there were only a few hundred EVs in the entire KCP&L service area. The project has “turned a Midwestern metropolitan area into one of the fastest-growing electric vehicle markets in the country,” intoned NPR anchor Robert Siegel in an eight-minute segment of “All Tech Considered.”

“There's a little movement afoot here in the middle of flyover country,” said Chuck Caisley, KCP&L’s vice president for marketing and public affairs. “We’re awfully excited about the prospect of this kind of transportation, and so we wanted to be catalytic to that.”

So far, the charging at the Clean Charge Network is free, at least until this summer. When it starts charging customers, the utility will begin reaping huge benefits from the network. Caisley says KCP&L’s grid, designed for the peak temperatures of Kansas City’s sweltering summers, is underutilitzed 80% of the time.

KCP&L just so happens to be part of SPP, and Caisley knows which way the wind blows—literally. In the interview with NPR, he says that KCP&L’s generation mix is getting more advanced all the time, adding more solar and wind.

“We just happen to sit in the Saudi Arabia equivalent of wind,” he said.

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