ERCOT, the entity that manages the flow of electric power to some 24 million Texas customers, representing about 90 percent of the state’s electric load, has posted its predictions of where the state will be able to find the cheapest electricity over the next 15 years. Insiders knew this was brewing, and a formal discussion in planning circles is scheduled for June 21.
As it usually does, ERCOT looked at a range of scenarios. The group mapped potential bulk power purchases from 2017 to 2031 under six different scenarios, including low gas prices, high economic growth, etc. And here’s the part that marks a momentous tipping point: solar power emerged as a clear economic winner in the state in all seven scenarios. In other words, ERCOT is saying that the price of solar power in Texas is now low enough that it predicts no other power plant types will be built.
It’s hard to overstate what a remarkable change this under-the-radar industry assessment represents. First of all, this happened in Texas, where competition to supply electricity is unfettered, and existing power plants have no guarantees or privileged status. In this environment, ERCOT is showing that solar is priced low enough to beat the cost of other new plants.
ERCOT’s predictions follow several reports that Texas solar projects have sold energy at ground-breaking low prices. Certainly, Texas benefits from the wide expanses of land and ample sun, but it is just a matter of time and good business development before similar economics take hold in other states as well.
So, one effect of the ERCOT predictions will surely be to increase the pressure on policy makers not to shield existing fossil-fuel generation from healthy competition.
It’s worth looking more closely at ERCOT’s specific findings. By 2031, ERCOT predicts that between 14,500 MW and 27,200 MW worth of new solar farms will be built. Under such a scenario, solar’s share of the Texas grid would rise from under 5 percent to 15 percent. Meanwhile, according to this forecast, no new gas or coal plants would be built unless extremely hot weather were to develop in the state.
The implication is clear: the economics of renewable energy has overtaken politics in Texas. Not only has the introduction of competition squeezed out inefficient fossil-fuel burning plants and rewarded renewable energy, but these same economics are driving Texas to cut carbon emissions.
Sure, in the political realm, Texas is leading the court fight against the federal carbon reduction requirements, known as the Clean Power Plan. But this stance is rendered purely symbolic when Texas’ own deregulated market is moving the state rapidly towards the same clean-energy outcome.
So, how did this happen? It is notable that Texas, along with 29 other states, primed the pump for renewable energy—and learned a great deal in the process—by including a renewable energy content requirement in state law. Texas created a Renewable Energy Standard (RES) in 1999 when it deregulated its electricity market, requiring 2,000 MW of new renewable energy by 2009.
That triggered such a boom in wind development that the Texas legislature raised the requirement in 2005 to 10,000 MW by 2025. Remarkably, Texas exceeded that state requirement 15 years ahead of schedule. Wind power currently makes up some 15 percent of ERCOT’s annual energy supply.
Just as Texas helped prime the pump for wind power, other states help encourage demand for solar power with RES policies of their own. Such policies have led solar prices to drop some 70 percent since 2009. Just as predicted by proponents of renewable energy standards, those jump starts have helped both wind power and solar power to succeed in the marketplace.
As more solar farms successfully beat fossil-fueled electricity generation on price—and more health benefits result from reduced pollution—more grid operators and communities will choose solar energy. After all, lots of places across the United States—even surprising ones such as Georgia and North Carolina—are well suited to go solar.
No matter what, count on one thing: With expected rises in natural gas prices and the continued trajectory of declining solar costs, this Texas phenomenon will certainly spread.]]>
The DOE’s SunShot Initiative has focused efforts on reducing the cost and increasing the deployment of solar energy, with the goal of supplying 14% of U.S. electricity demand in 2030, and 27% by 2050. Eight new studies released together describe the progress and challenges. With the continuation of cost declines, and grid and business adaptations, these reports forecast solar installations over 300,000 MW in 2030 and 700,000 MW in 2050. (You gotta say “Wow!”)
NERC, the safekeeper of reliability of the electric power grid, has tripled its projections of wind and solar in its review of the EPA’s carbon-reduction rules known as the Clean Power Plan. For the years 2016 – 2030, NERC estimates new construction of 120,000 MW of wind and solar generation, up from 35,000 MW in its previous report on the Clean Power Plan.
NERC has made considerable progress in recognizing the ability of the power system to provide reliability with high levels of renewable energy. One sign of this is where their report illustrates a key finding by saying the Southwest Power Pool (think of the southern Plains states) could be getting 46% of its energy from renewables in 2030, and that this spurs the need for additional transmission.
NERC’s changing perspective on a future with more solar and wind includes these renewables contributing to grid reliability in various ways. They also recognize that “integration of large amounts of renewables are expected regardless of the EPA Clean Power Plan.” NERC further recognizes “that the development of storage and other commercial technologies can serve to mitigate some of the [intermittency] effects.”
This NERC report is much closer to the many studies released by regional grid operators that describe the flexibility of the generating fleet, and the use of gas-fired peaking plants to smooth the supply of electricity before the rise of energy storage.
UCS’s present forecast of renewable energy is mid-way between these two, with new renewable energy capacity additions of 202,000 MW through 2030. Assumptions about technology and financing costs explain most of the differences in these three studies.
Topping off this stack of reports is a look at how affordable rental housing in California can make solar energy even more beneficial and economic by including energy storage. Present-day utility rates for commercial buildings make energy storage in California state programs an attractive investment for rental housing owners. This state-level study illustrates a point made in one of the DOE reports that solar plus storage is more effective at replacing fossil-fired power plants than either solar or storage acting alone. As we get more solar in more places and storage becomes common, the path to a renewable energy future will become a well-traveled road.]]>
Let’s look at some of the answers.
1. Solar is happening everywhere, thanks to falling prices and decent sunshine. That means we need the grid to bring solar to anyone.
2. More than half the states will soon have rooftop solar cheaper than the utility-delivered price of electricity, and that means everybody needs to get smart about what is coming.
3. The sun shines on everyone, and that means more opportunities for financing and ownership options to allow town governments, multi-family buildings, and renters to gain the benefits.
4. Solar is the cheapest new supply when the sun is up, and that means signaling to water heaters, vehicle chargers, air conditioners with ice-storage that the best time to use energy is going to be when the solar panels are producing energy.
5. Solar energy is growing at exponential rates. We will want to use it after sunset, and that means energy storage.
So, where do you get your solar energy?
There’s a strong and growing chance that solar is a small part of your electric utility mix. In some places, that is a sizable portion of the mix, from rooftop systems and large-scale solar gardens and farms. With 940,00 of the first million on home rooftops, these energy supplies may well be in your neighborhood.
We are one million strong, and growing. Cheers for the first million who get, and give from their solar panels.
Featured photo: Solar Energy Industries Association]]>
INGAA offers hope for the pipeline business with its forecast of an imminent rebound in gas prices. In plain language, INGAA says that hope for higher prices lies in the growth of gas exports.
The promise (for them), or threat (to us), of higher natural gas prices is central to the question of risks of over-reliance on natural gas. UCS has made this point in several analyses about Massachusetts, a scoring of each state, and America‘s risks. Instead of locking into long-term commitments to climate-damaging methane (the chemical name for natural gas, which creates carbon dioxide when burned and is worse for the climate if it leaks unburned), we should be accelerating the shift to wind and solar, which provide price stability and climate stability.
The news from the leaking gas storage field in Aliso Canyon, California isn’t getting better, either. The massive leak has been stopped after 4 months, but the operations are not returning to normal. A projection of gas requirements to meet peak demands in summer suggestions inadequate pipelines for the Los Angeles basin, and insufficient gas in storage.
Interestingly, the recommended actions to address this shortage in summer are all good for reducing over-reliance on natural gas and fossil fuels generally. Renewable energy and energy efficiency are featured prominently in the “action plan” for mitigating the loss of Aliso Canyon capacity, and in most every plan for reducing CO2 emissions.
In the past, the INGAA report of pipeline costs provided a means to compare the costs of shifting to use more gas, or an even larger shift to adopt renewable wind and solar. That comparison showed the gas pipeline option as the more expensive one, and the one with less reductions in climate-damaging pollution. The current INGAA report offers more fodder for comparison. In the gas boom of 2010-2015, pipeline spending has averaged $40-50 billion per year. The electric transmission needed for the US to be fueled by 80% renewable energy is less than $9 billion per year.
Now, the gas pipeline industry has toned down the expected capital spending for new pipelines. Instead of $640 billion over 22 years, INGAA projects a range with a midpoint of $546 billion over 20 years. Meanwhile, the costs of renewables are making real progress.
Let’s make this the news: we are learning how to build and use renewables faster and cheaper than ever.]]>
Zootopia is a place where mammalian species, both predators and vegetarians, co-exist in harmony, and a female bunny overcomes prejudice to become a crime-fighting cop. We can pick up this message of diversity and inclusion and apply it to one of the challenges we have with new energy technology.
One of many changes in our energy picture is a much-debated graph of the power demand net of solar energy, known as the “Duck” curve. In it, the mid-day supply of solar energy pushes down the curve, making the belly, while the upward evening slope of demand as the sun sets makes the neck.
The duck curve reminds us that solar energy is plentiful in the daytime, but that situation changes with sunset.
At the Union of Concerned Scientists, we see this as an opportunity to provide low-cost energy while the sun is shining, and shift some appliance energy demand to mid-day.
For many in the utility industry, though, this new shape represents a new, possibly frightening challenge, requiring new, unbiased thinking.
But as Zootopia reminds us, fear and bias do not solve problems. While the duck has been a focus of attention in California, on a per-capita basis there has been more solar energy added in Hawaii. This, plus the fact that each of the Hawaiian islands has a separate grid, means that utilities in Hawaii are learning to deal with a curve that rises more steeply than the California duck.
The Hawaiian utilities are already familiar with a shape that should be named after the state bird, the ne’ne curve.
As the rise of solar is not just a California or U.S. phenomena, we should prepare for a Zootopia of curves, and power grid adaptations that can co-exist with the changing energy supply.
While the curve appears first in lands that are drenched in renewable energy, we must credit Germany for leading the way.
Germany is now producing 20 percent of its annual electricity from wind and solar, and faces what we might call a Dachshund curve. See a discussion with a German grid operator where he describes how a change in thinking allowed sections of Germany to be powered by over 40 percent wind and solar each year.
Another region that first learned to adapt to variable renewable energy from managing wind is the U.S. Pacific Northwest. A network of majestic rivers and publicly owned dams contributes to the situation, which I call the salmon curve. This region typically has a bulge in its power supply in the spring season when the wind blows at the same time the rivers are driving hydroelectric power onto the electric grid.
Texas, already home to more wind power than any state, will soon have a lot of solar energy on its grid. Consider calling this the running horse curve?
The grid operator in Texas has demonstrated considerable skill in managing what some might actually consider a bucking bronco.
As utilities become more familiar with the daily pattern, the role of so-called baseload plants becomes less relevant. Consider these images of the rotini curve in Italy.
Will we ever see in China the Peking duck curve?
Seriously, the grid of the future is already here. The arrival of abundant solar and wind means the flexibility and adaptation in the old generating plants are as important as the energy they produce. More sources of flexibility are available, when we value diverse resources, as detailed in a great work by the Regulatory Assistance Project, Teaching the Duck to Fly.
Consider running water heaters and charging electric vehicles when renewable energy is abundant. Also, combine wind and solar, and offshore wind, with their diverse production patterns, to make a smoother, flatter energy curve. This is the sort of thing we always have done with electricity generation.
While we haven’t yet claimed the rabbit as a shape for an energy curve, perhaps it is a better symbol than a sloth for the changes we are—and need to be—making to the electricity grid.]]>
The Chamber continues to promote its flawed review of the EPA’s projections of renewable energy growth in the U.S. used in the Clean Power Plan (“CPP”). It strikes me odd that this business group wants to belittle both the supply and demand for renewable energy, when Main Street and Fortune 500 companies continue to make major investments in renewables that greatly outpaces expectations.
The Chamber continues to promote its January critique of renewable energy growth while the data continues to come in pointing at greater growth. We are skeptical of the Chamber claim that it “remains a strong and steadfast supporter of continued efforts to advance renewable technologies to drive down costs and achieve parity with traditional electricity sources, the advancements that we aspire to someday realize should not be relied upon as the present-day basis for sweeping regulations.”
This perspective collides with the reality of the present-day, where wind and solar cost-reductions mean that utilities and home and business owners throughout the country are buying more and more renewable energy.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce says that renewable energy deployment in 2012 was an “anomaly” because the 13,131 MW of wind construction was stimulated by a policy, the expiration of a federal tax credit. In my earlier blog, I suggested the Chamber exaggerated. Now the results for 2015 are in, with wind industry adding 8,600 MW of new capacity in the United States. Combined with the record-breaking 7,300 MW of new solar capacity, and small amounts of geothermal, hydro, and biopower, the U.S. construction for renewables was more than 16,600 MW, far exceeding the U.S. Chamber’s expectations and slightly below the U.S. record of 17,600 MW of total renewable capacity added in 2012.
In fact, renewable energy provided more than two-thirds of all new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in 2015, with wind and solar each providing more new capacity than natural gas.
Furthermore, while I’ve included solar in describing the present, the Chamber has very little to say about solar. Given that this is a debate over the EPA using a renewable energy building block to support its targets for reducing carbon emissions, and solar can be built in more places and more configurations than wind, what does it mean for the Chamber to choose to focus on predictions of wind and omit solar?
The EPA’s business is to project into the future the emissions from polluters, and establish a regulatory framework that provides a means to comply with limits on future emissions. The option of adding renewable generation (not only wind) is a key tool, or building block, to meeting future compliance requirements. As Yogi Berra did not say, it is tough to make predictions, especially about the future.
The Chamber ties its claims about EPA predictions to arguments about the proper use of either the average of past years’ growth, or the maximum of past years’ growth, of renewable energy deployments.
Looking forward, the Chamber says the compliance targets should use lower projections of growth than were used by the EPA, picking out the 6,315 MW difference between the two best years for wind construction in the period 2010-2014 (13,131 MW vs 6,816 MW), and a 260 MW discrepancy for geothermal construction (407 MW vs. 147 MW). From there, the Chamber takes every opportunity to magnify these differences in their comparison to selected facts, and to illustrate the impact on the calculation of emission reductions targets required in years 2022-2030.
In the Chamber’s extended fuss over the impact of using these higher numbers over their preferred lower projection, they appear to agree with EPA’s numbers in the end. Projecting the available generation over the course of the CPP compliance period using their rejection of the 13,131 MW reference point, the Chamber “reduces projected RE generation from 706 million GWh to just 544 million GWh” by 2030 (See page 15.) What the Chamber does not say, when repeating the drama and outrage they set out on page 10, is that the lower number, 544 million, is almost identical to what the EPA actually relied on to count toward compliance (actually 540 million GWh).
The EPA and Chamber are ultimately in disagreement over the available energy from renewable generation in the years 2022-2030. The Chamber’s omission of solar and wind industry activity, let alone growth, in the years between now and 2021 is insulting to American enterprise. The Chamber seems unaware of the market forces that are rewarding businesses for continuing to deploy wind and solar. Two examples:
In fact, EPA’s projection of renewable energy growth is conservative because it does not include the recent 5-year extension of the federal tax credits for wind and solar passed into law last December, well after EPA had completed their modeling. Analysis of the tax credit extensions by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory shows 48,000-53,000 MW additional renewable energy will be built by 2022. This projection, showing renewable capacity additions will grow at 18,900 MW per year on average between 2016 and 2020, assumes the same gas price scenario as the widely used EIA Annual Energy Outlook 2015 Reference case.
A business-community analysis of the tax credit extension from Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that 32,800 MW of utility-scale solar will be built by the end of 2021 and a total of 66,500 MW of solar by 2021. This solar, combined with the projected wind construction, will provide nearly 67% of the renewable generation projected by EPA as needed for compliance using Block 3. With that built prior to the compliance period, the annual solar and wind additions needed in years 2022 – 2030 is only 7,000 MW or less.
The Union of Concerned Scientists examined the clean energy growth spurred by the CPP, and the likely economic and environmental impacts of achieving the emission reductions required by the CPP. Unlike the Chamber, we found the EPA’s modelling is reasonable, without including the tax credit extension. Newly extended federal tax credits for wind and solar can work together with the CPP to generate even greater near-term consumer, economic, and health benefits.
A more arcane aspect of the Chamber’s claims addresses the potential amount of renewable resources available. This works two ways: the Chamber numbers are either out-of-date, or deceptive. With its usual bombast about broken promises, the Chamber compares estimates of how much wind might be available inside each state (from the 2012 resource assessments), with the wind energy implicit in states’ targets set by the EPA. The Chamber rejects a variety of facts that make its carefully assembled Table 5 irrelevant:
The Chamber of Commerce may claim that is “standing up for American business,” but it is misunderstanding the business case for renewable energy and carbon reductions.]]>
With renewable energy costs 40-50% lower than 2011 (when the collaborative’s original findings were completed), this work can aid states and utilities looking for least-cost means to comply with the EPA rule.
That’s right. By consensus, the representatives from every state between Montana, Maine, Texas, and Florida directed a detailed study to “reduce economy-wide carbon emissions by 42% from 2005 levels in 2030 and 80% in 2050, combined with meeting 30% of the nation’s electricity requirements from renewable resources by 2030 and significant deployment of energy efficiency measures, and other low-carbon technologies.”
Our new report takes a fresh look at the economics of the transmission needed for Clean Power Plan compliance, emphasizing the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states. The 26 collaborating utilities began this effort to improve joint grid planning on a regional basis, and included transmission and operations studies for reducing CO2 42% below 2005 from the utility sector in 2030, a goal beyond what the EPA Clean Power Plan requires in 2030 (which nationally is about 32% below 2005 levels).
The engineering design replaces most coal burning with clean energy, including a 600% increase in wind farms and energy savings replacing 20% of energy use in 2030.
The collaborating utilities (including American Transmission Co., Duke, Entergy, International Trans. Co., ISO New England, Midwest ISO, the Municipal Electric Authority of Georgia, New York ISO, PJM, PowerSouth Energy Coop, South Carolina Elec. & Gas, Santee Cooper, Southern Company, Southwest Power Pool, and Tennessee Valley Authority) provided the transmission plan and costs. Follow-on studies, the focus on today’s release, examined how the savings in fuel and upkeep on old plants pays for new wind and transmission over 25 years.
When the engineers ran the cost numbers, and the expenses were compared over 25 years, the results showed the costs for building and operating with deep CO2 reductions comes out within 2% of a Business As Usual future.
States can see what can be accomplished with a regional approach, one selected by a formal council (the Eastern Interconnection States Planning Council) made up of two representatives per state including one commissioner and a designee of the governor.
Officials from 39 states came to consensus on the policies and the cost assumptions used by the utilities. This original work was done in quarterly meetings and workshops over the course of three years, establishing the tools for use today.
Utilities, state officials, and other stakeholders can find ample illustration here that they can meet or exceed the carbon-reduction requirements of the Clean Power Plan with essentially no additional costs to the electric power system at least through 2040.
It is always hard to predict future costs for energy. The regulators agreed on a set of fuel and clean energy technology costs based on what they knew then.
Today gas prices are much lower, but wind and solar costs are much lower as well. (Comparing 2011 to 2015, natural gas prices are down 35%, solar costs are down 50%, and wind costs are down 40%, which means carbon reductions are even less expensive than projected.) Today’s report acknowledges cost have fallen, but does not re-run the numbers.
We also have analysis of how much the transmission cost estimates are a fraction of expected new gas pipeline costs. While the gas industry sees need for pipeline investments of $641 billion ($30 billion per years over next 20 years) in the U.S. and Canada, the cost for transmission in the EIPC scenario for 42% carbon reduction in 2030 is only $100 billion (in 2010 dollars).
The assembled stakeholders worked through a number of “futures” and selected three cases for 2030. In addition to the carbon reduction scenario, the other two were Business As Usual and a regionally implemented national Renewable Portfolio Standard (meaning limits on inter-regional transfers of energy, such that locally produced renewable energy is heavily utilized, but possibly at a higher cost in some circumstances).
UCS was an active participant, and we championed the deep carbon reduction scenario as a follow-up on a CO2 reduction blueprint we had released previously.
This unprecedented collaboration on transmission between states from the Plains to the east coast and south to the Gulf was primarily from 2010 through the end of 2012. Important to note, this was before the EPA issued rules for reducing CO2 from existing power plants.
Today, the final Clean Power Plan strongly encourages regional coordination in accomplishing its goals, and the EIPC effort provides a successful example of large-scale regional planning that can potentially meet and exceed the Clean Power Plan’s targets.]]>
Some sales efforts work from a false starting point. Some try to lead the gullible consumer by pretending to share an insider’s secret with them. Some fall back on old slogans. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has employed all three of these tactics in its latest attack on the EPA’s Clean Power Plan.
We’ve sent the Chamber through the fact-checker before. This time the claims are the same, but the flaws are more subtle.
The Chamber has made a lot of noise in this round on the way the EPA made renewable energy calculations and projections. I’ve done energy supply planning and renewable energy development work most of my career, so I’m going to stick to these areas.
The Chamber wants us to think the EPA has done a great injustice by suggesting that future wind construction can equal the best wind construction year, 2012. The argument goes that because there were unique circumstances that led to the construction boom in 2012, the industry 10 years later will not have grown, and will not be able to meet this EPA projection.
Below is the Chamber’s chart on this point. Notice they simply omit 2014 and 2015 actual data, and then assume there is no wind construction in the U.S. until 2021. That’s not how commerce works in an industry that has seen steady cost reductions and is beating new natural gas plants on price in many places. Indeed, that’s wacky.
In the real world, wind energy grew in 2014 and 2015, and is set to have a great year in 2016—and for years to come—thanks in part to the end of uncertainty over tax credits.
The Chamber suggests a conspiracy of unreasonable assumptions when it shows the difference between average productivity (i.e., capacity factor) of existing wind generation and the EPA’s projection for new facilities built. The Chamber is not anti-innovation, and concedes that technological improvements will enable higher capacity factors for future projects. It just doesn’t trust the evidence the EPA cites to support the projections.
Well, the same technology improvements that make wind competitive with today’s natural gas projects also raise the capacity factor. The target EPA used for 10 years away is already being hit. Despite the Chamber’s doubts, businesses will continue to adopt this new technology if they want to stay in business (which they do, just like other businesses).
Last time, the Chamber had reported only the costs of a carbon reduction investment, and none of the benefits. This time, they suggest that when the greater carbon reduction from these (faulty) numbers are used, the cost of this increased carbon reduction can be found by multiplying each ton of CO2 by a $30 per ton price on CO2. This is a novel, totally incorrect way to consider the cost of carbon pollution impacts, and it is not how commerce works.
The Chamber of Commerce should be able to understand the business case for wind power and carbon reductions—and know how to handle data—but their latest study gives little indication of those talents. The Chamber was wrong in its previous assessment of the Clean Power Plan, and its latest contribution is, unfortunately, more of the same.]]>
Energy Ventures Analysis (EVA) has provided its now familiar “analysis” of “actual costs likely to result” from implementation of the carbon reductions. Like other flawed analyses, it uses highly limited choices for compliance to claim that the costs will be higher than any other study has suggested.
For starters, they ignore the benefits. EVA and the National Mining Association (NMA) claim that the “EPA does not even bother to measure how the rules will improve the climate.” NMA/EVA also omit completely the health co-benefits of the CPP. Well, as even NMA/EVA admits the CPP will “accelerate the momentum of carbon emissions in the U.S. by mandating a 32 percent reduction in emissions from the power sector below 2005 levels… in 2030.” (page 3). In fact, the EPA estimates the Clean Power Plan will cut carbon by millions of tons per year, and generate climate benefits worth billions of dollars, reaching $20 billion in 2030. Further, the EPA estimates health benefits from the reduced air pollution will range from $12-34 billion in 2030.
No. This is where the wheels really come off. NMA/EVA admits it only evaluated “one of the six approved state alternatives” for complying with the CPP: “This study focused on a state mass-based limitation including new unit complement with no inter-state trading. Should states elect to pursue a rate-based limitation and/or participate in inter-state trading programs, the lowest cost resource compliance plan would likely be different.” (Emphasis added) (See NEMA report, Appendix II)
Interstate trading is the more common means of nearly all commerce that requires major capital equipment. The regional power pools, MISO, SPP, NYISO, ISO-NE and PJM all participate in, or have reported, that use of regional trading for carbon reduction is more economical. These regional power grid operators and interstate utility companies exist because of the economic benefits from drawing on a fleet of generators to provide power, share reserves and maintain reliability. Ignoring the lower cost option is a sure way to raise the cost.
Yes, though we don’t see them in the NMA/EVA “analysis”. NMA/EVA’s study is done in a black box; it contains little to no information re: the assumptions they used for the cost of renewables, natural gas, etc… No mention whatsoever of energy efficiency. In a prior round with EVA providing biased analysis of the CPP, we found through close scrutiny that EVA developed a table of upper limits of how much renewables are allowed. The report hints that EVA employed an internally developed state-by-state forecast of renewable capacity. (See more in this EVA report for coal producer Peabody Energy.)
There, EVA explain that the renewable energy additions were limited by its view of “state renewable resource quality and potential” and “historical/forecast future renewable generation growth trends”. In that work, EVA limited wind or solar allowed in state-by-state modeling: Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana are shown with no solar in the future, South Carolina is limited to adding 1 MW between 2020 and 2030. Arizona, 40 – 50 MW of solar per year. In very successful windy states, Kansas is limited to 25 MW, Oklahoma 600 MW, and Nebraska 62 MW total new wind between 2020 and 2030.
No. This flies in the face of recent trends and plans for future development. For example, Texas had over 8,000 MW and SPP had over 3,175 MW of wind under construction or under development with a power purchase agreement at the end of 2014, according to AWEA. AWEA also reports 95.8 GW of wind projects were in transmission queues around the U.S. at the end of 2014, including 23.9 GW in ERCOT and 14.3 GW in SPP.
In that work, EVA defies credibility with projections of zero new wind added from 2016 onward in these regions where wind performs better and cheaper than anywhere in the U.S. In 2013, average wind power prices in the interior region of the country were $22/MWh with the production tax credit, according to the definitive energy lab study. Even without the PTC, projects in this part of the country would be cost-competitive with new natural gas combined cycle plants.
For the solar numbers, predictions are tough, because solar is growing so quickly. The CEO of Southern Company, which serves among other states, Alabama and Mississippi, said in recent interview that his company is investing $800 million in 2015 in renewables, and between $1.3 billion and $2 billion in subsequent years, with the majority to be in solar. (“Utilities plan a surge of solar, wind in Southeast” Energywire, Nov. 19, 2015.)
This latest EVA study offers flaws and misinformation. An honest reader should be able to spot the flaws.]]>
The significant impacts of power outages are driving interest and technology innovation to provide electric power in a sustainable manner, even when the grid is damaged. An approach that’s growing in popularity and is becoming increasingly cost-effective is to combine solar plus storage to provide this added layer of reliability. While creating a redundant electricity supply is an expensive undertaking, it may be that microgrids built for reliability are a key step in deploying energy storage for the electricity distribution system.
I described in an earlier blog post the greater complexity of powering a home or set of buildings in a microgrid compared to adding batteries to a hybrid or all-electric car. Continuing the analogy of cars to resilience for electric power systems, every car has a battery in it to start the car, and support the electronics. The battery has a small, though important role in running the car. In a house, the analogy might be the batteries in flashlights, cellphones, and laptops. These things will work in their own limited way, for a limited time if the main power supply for the neighborhood is knocked out.
A hybrid car puts a larger battery into the drivetrain, making additional power available to supplement the primary gas-powered engine. At my house, and at three-quarters of a million of others, a set of solar panels makes additional power available to supplement the primary supply from the central grid. As with the original hybrid cars that don’t operate in electric-only mode, the supplemental power won’t run my house on solar when the grid is down.
Setting up a microgrid for the house, or a small campus of buildings, to run when the grid is down requires a lot more planning. Just as we have seen earlier and wider use of hybrids before all-electric cars started to become popular, there are obstacles that must be overcome to set up a microgrid using solar plus storage.
The advantages of a back-up power system using solar plus storage come from the advantages of solar over diesel or gasoline.
First, there is the challenge of fuel delivery. In the aftermath of Sandy, fuel deliveries to emergency generators were inadequate. The disaster hit so many at once, the contractors for fuel deliveries could not meet the demand. Storm damage flooded fuel tanks and interfered with fuel pumping, and even ships coming to the harbor with deliveries of bulk fuel. Reportedly, over 50% of diesel generators failed to start during the Sandy storm.
Second, because the marginal cost and pollution to run solar panels is zero (unlike diesel generators), the equipment can be used every day. The savings on energy costs from using the solar or the solar-plus-storage can pay for that equipment. Clean Energy Group recently released a study of this, describing the resilience benefits as a free or near-free addition to apartment buildings that have installed solar plus storage.
In those examples, the buildings remain connected to the broader electricity grid, and amortize their investments through the collection of grid-based revenue streams. When the centralized grid goes down, these buildings will rely on specialized inverters and energy storage to facilitate “islanding” from, or running in parallel to, the main grid.
That approach of using the solar plus storage everyday, while the grid is still functioning, is what sets this apart, and offers a path to both wider adoption of solar-plus-storage, and microgrids for resilience.
Where this all gets tricky is designing how to allocate the limited power supplied in an emergency. A microgrid has to contain enough energy supply to provide for the demand on that grid. When a house runs on an emergency generator, there is a selected subset of the electric circuits and uses that are going to be powered by the emergency generator. Same is true for a solar-plus-storage arrangement. Same is true for a microgrid supporting a fire station or water plants and an adjacent town building serving as an emergency shelter.
To make micro-grids based on solar more common, the non-profit Clean Coalition is providing education and engineering on specific projects that will serve as models for enhancing resilience, increasing renewable energy use, and speeding the adoption of storage on the distribution system. As these slides illustrate, the deployment of microgrids requires an owner to determine the goals and scope of a micro-grid, and define what additional assets need to be included, and then design an economic and functional deployment. The Clean Coalition seeks to standardize and simplify microgrid deployments.
We are at the stage where microgrid development can provide grid resilience to communities, but microgrid deployment is not so easy that we can say resilience is the “killer app” for solar-plus-storage.