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How Well Did Wind Energy Perform During the Bomb Cyclone?
By Hannah Hunt
Extreme weather events offer an opportunity to take stock of our power system—how well will it withstand days of prolonged stress? Earlier this year, the eastern half of the U.S. faced one of these trials, as the "Bomb Cyclone" blasted the region with frigid air for a number of days.
The result: no major power plant outages, and a power system that held strong in the face of challenging weather conditions. And wind power made an important contribution to a resilient energy mix, helping to keep the lights on for American families and businesses.
As was the case during the 2014 Polar Vortex event and the Texas 2011 cold snap, wind output was well above average when the power system needed it most. Across the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast throughout the Bomb Cyclone event, wind production surpassed both average winter and average annual output.
Let's first look at PJM, the grid operator serving 13 states and Washington, DC. From Jan. 3 through Jan. 7, wind output in PJM was 55 percent higher than average wind output in 2017. During the highest demand periods on January 3-5, wind output was consistently three to five times greater than the level PJM plans for and compensates wind for in its capacity market. Wind's capacity factor exceeded 50 percent multiple times during the three-day period.
In New England, wind output was also well above average throughout most of the event, and more than twice its normal level during some of the most challenging periods on Jan. 5 and 6, as shown below. Wind output surpassed the region's coal generation on those days.
Grid Operator Studies Show Values of Renewables for Resilience
In January, the New England grid operator released a report examining resilience to extreme winter weather under a range of different electric generation mixes for the mid-2020s. While initial reporting focused on scenarios that did not perform as well, a number of scenarios with higher shares of renewable generation proved to be more reliable and resilient than the current power system. In fact, three of the four of the most reliable portfolios were high renewable scenarios.
PJM's 2017 resilience analysis also found that scenarios with very high levels of renewables were among the most resilient. PJM's study discussed a range of other events that can cause outages at conventional power plants as well, like flooding, drought, high temperatures, and coal barge and rail congestion. Renewable resources like wind and solar PV are generally resilient to such disruptions because they are not dependent on deliveries of fuel or cooling water.
Previous studies have found that more than 96 percent of customer electric outage hours happen because of severe weather, rather than disruptions of electricity generation. High winds, falling trees and other factors knock out power lines, causing lost power. Such was the case in Puerto Rico, where the island is still recovering. The main issue wasn't damage to its power plants, but rather the complete decimation of its transmission system. That demonstrates that building a resilient electric grid requires a diverse generation mix, as well as transmission and infrastructure upgrades.
Further analysis of the "Bomb Cyclone" can be found here.
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If people in three European countries want to fight the climate crisis, they need to chill out more.
"The rapid pace of labour-saving technology brings into focus the possibility of a shorter working week for all, if deployed properly," Autonomy Director Will Stronge said, The Guardian reported. "However, while automation shows that less work is technically possible, the urgent pressures on the environment and on our available carbon budget show that reducing the working week is in fact necessary."
The report found that if the economies of Germany, Sweden and the UK maintain their current levels of carbon intensity and productivity, they would need to switch to a six, 12 and nine hour work week respectively if they wanted keep the rise in global temperatures to the below two degrees Celsius promised by the Paris agreement, The Independent reported.
The study based its conclusions on data from the UN and the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) on greenhouse gas emissions per industry in all three countries.
The report comes as the group Momentum called on the UK's Labour Party to endorse a four-day work week.
"We welcome this attempt by Autonomy to grapple with the very real changes society will need to make in order to live within the limits of the planet," Emma Williams of the Four Day Week campaign said in a statement reported by The Independent. "In addition to improved well-being, enhanced gender equality and increased productivity, addressing climate change is another compelling reason we should all be working less."
Supporters of the idea linked it to calls in the U.S. and Europe for a Green New Deal that would decarbonize the economy while promoting equality and well-being.
"This new paper from Autonomy is a thought experiment that should give policymakers, activists and campaigners more ballast to make the case that a Green New Deal is absolutely necessary," Common Wealth think tank Director Mat Lawrence told The Independent. "The link between working time and GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions has been proved by a number of studies. Using OECD data and relating it to our carbon budget, Autonomy have taken the step to show what that link means in terms of our working weeks."
Stronge also linked his report to calls for a Green New Deal.
"Becoming a green, sustainable society will require a number of strategies – a shorter working week being just one of them," he said, according to The Guardian. "This paper and the other nascent research in the field should give us plenty of food for thought when we consider how urgent a Green New Deal is and what it should look like."
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