World's Largest Grid Operator Reveals Why Increased Wind Energy Means Increased Savings
By Michael Goggin
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
In the fall, PJM, the largest grid operator in the world, serving 60 million customers across 13 Mid-Atlantic and Great Lakes states, issued the preliminary results of a major wind integration study. The final results of the study were released Monday and they are even better than the preliminary results.
Among the highlights:
Wind energy’s economic savings are even larger than found in the fall’s preliminary results.
Obtaining 20 percent of PJM’s electricity from wind energy reduces the cost of producing electricity by about $10 billion annually (about 25 percent of total annual production costs of $40 billion), while 30 percent wind reduces production costs by about $15 billion (about 37.5 percent of total production costs) each year. These numbers are up from the fall’s preliminary results of about $9 billion for the 20 percent wind case and $13 billion for the 30 percent case. Importantly, these benefits were just as large in sensitivity analyses that explored scenarios with lower natural gas prices and electricity demand, while a sensitivity case that added a $40 per ton ton carbon price increased wind’s production savings by roughly 50 percent. Wholesale electricity prices are reduced by about $9 to $22 billion annually across the 20 percent and 30 percent scenarios, with the high offshore scenarios producing the largest wholesale price reductions of $22 billion. This occurs because offshore wind tends to produce more during times of peak electricity demand, offsetting more expensive gas generation.
PJM’s study found that each Megawatt-hour (MWh) of wind energy provides between $57 and $74 of value to the power system, depending on the scenario. This is a very high value, higher than the $50 per MWh value found for most scenarios in the preliminary results. Transmission costs were also found to be a very low $3 per MWh in almost all cases, accounting for only about 5 percent of the value provided by wind energy. The transmission costs were significantly lower than in the study’s preliminary results. Importantly, other studies by independent grid operators have confirmed that most transmission upgrades more than pay for themselves by providing other benefits, such as improved electric reliability, reduced electricity prices, more competitive electricity markets, and higher efficiency of electricity transmission relative to today’s congested electric grid.
Wind power’s pollution reductions are also very large.
Carbon dioxide emissions declined by 27 to 41 percent in the 30 percent renewable cases, and sulfur dioxide and nitric oxide emissions declined by 35 percent in the 30 percent wind case that deployed the best onshore wind resources. Depending on the scenario, the wind cases reduced total PJM coal generation by 22 to 66 percent, with total PJM gas generation declining by 26 to 57 percent. Imports from other regions, primarily coal generation from Midcontinent Independent System Operator (MISO), also declined by 20 to 30 percent in almost all cases.
The study finds there is no harm to electric reliability from increasing wind energy use by a factor of 10 to 20.
As before, the study notes that “all the simulations of challenging days revealed successful operation of the PJM real-time market.” The final study also notes that the “PJM system, with adequate transmission and ancillary services in the form of Regulation, will not have any significant issue absorbing the higher levels of renewable energy penetration considered in the study.” This confirms the results of dozens of other wind integration studies and independent grid operator analyses of real-world wind operations data. As PJM’s Senior Vice President Andy Ott and other experts explain in this video, changes in wind energy output are reliably accommodated using the same tools grid operators have always used to accommodate fluctuations in electricity demand as well as abrupt failures at conventional power plants.
Building on NREL’s comprehensive analysis from last fall, this study puts further nails in the coffin of the fossil fuel industry myth that wind energy’s emissions savings are less than expected because it causes fossil-fired power plants to cycle more. A key reason is that wind energy’s gradual changes in output are a small contributor to total power system variability, smaller than the variations in electricity demand and the abrupt failures of conventional power plants. For example, today’s study found that increasing PJM wind energy use by seven times by adding 28,000 MW of wind would only increase the need for regulation reserves by 340 MW, or an extremely small increase of about 1.2 MW of reserves for every 100 MW of added wind capacity. For comparison, PJM currently holds 3,350 MW of expensive, fast-acting contingency reserves 24/7 to ensure that it can keep the lights on in case a large fossil or nuclear power plant unexpectedly breaks down. In other words, the total reserve need and integration cost for accommodating large fossil and nuclear power plants (3,350 MW) is about 10 times larger than the incremental reserve need associated with increasing PJM wind use by 7-fold (340 MW). As further testament to the fact that wind energy is a small contributor to total power system variability, PJM’s study found that the total cost of cycling all power plants dropped from $870 million in the base scenario to $500 million in the scenario with 30 percent wind energy (page 33 in the executive summary).
The study found that cycling’s impact on smog-forming SO2 and NOx emissions was in the single digit percents across all scenarios, i.e. wind produced more than 90 percent of the expected emissions reductions for these pollutants. As explained above, carbon dioxide emissions declined by 27-41 percent in the 30 percent renewable cases, consistent with NREL’s finding that the impact of wind-related cycling on CO2 emissions is “negligible.” Specifically, NREL’s analysis found that cycling reduced wind’s carbon dioxide savings by 2.4 pounds per MWh, or 0.2 percent out of wind’s total emissions savings of 1190 pounds per MWh, so wind produced 99.8 percent of the expected carbon emissions reductions. It should also be noted that the PJM study likely greatly overstates the impact of cycling due to a peculiarity in its modeling approach. As the study notes, “For scenarios that experience increased cycling, the results are dominated by supercritical coal emissions.” Experts at NREL and elsewhere have noted that the study likely erred in its assumption that supercritical coal plants would cycle this much, as in the real world it is likely that their output would remain constant while other generators would provide that flexibility. As a result, the already negligible impact on cycling emissions found in the study likely overstates the real-world impact.
PJM’s study further reinforces other studies that have found wind energy is a win-win-win for consumers, the environment, and electric reliability.
For example, a May 2013 analysis by Synapse Energy Economics found that doubling the use of wind energy beyond existing standards in PJM would reduce carbon pollution by 50 million tons per year and maintain reliability while saving consumers $6.9 billion per year on net, after accounting for all wind and transmission costs. In numerous cold snaps over the last two months, including several in PJM, wind energy has proved its reliability and value by providing large amounts of valuable energy when grid operators needed it most, protecting consumers by keeping electricity and natural gas price spikes in check.
This study confirms that wind energy is providing that benefit every day by diversifying our energy mix and keeping consumers’ energy costs low.
Visit EcoWatch’s RENEWABLES page for more related news on this topic.
Maryland will become the first state in the nation Thursday to implement a ban on foam takeout containers.
- New Jersey Legislature Passes 'Most Comprehensive' Plastics Ban ... ›
- Canada to Announce Ban on Single-Use Plastics - EcoWatch ›
- The Complex and Frustrating Reality of Recycling Plastic - EcoWatch ›
- Dunkin' Says Bye to Foam Cups (But Bring Your Own Thermos ... ›
- Maine and Vermont Pass Plastic Bag Bans on the Same Day ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Ajit Niranjan
Leaders from across the world have promised to turn environmental degradation around and put nature on the path to recovery within a decade.
- Destruction of Nature Is Triggering Pandemics, Say Leaders of WWF ... ›
- The UN Wants to Protect 30% of the Planet by 2030 - EcoWatch ›
- New WWF Report Calls for Protecting Nature to Prevent Future ... ›
Just days after a new report detailed the "unequivocal and pervasive role" climate change plays in the increased frequency and intensity of wildfires, new fires burned 10,000 acres on Sunday as a "dome" of hot, dry air over Northern California created ideal fire conditions over the weekend.
- California's Iconic Redwoods Threatened by Wildfires - EcoWatch ›
- California Wildfires Destroy Condor Sanctuary, at Least 4 Birds Still ... ›
- 7 Devastating Photos of Wildfires in California, Oregon and ... ›
- David Attenborough Calls For Ban on Deep-Sea Mining - EcoWatch ›
- Sir David Attenborough Set to Present BBC Documentary on ... ›
- David Attenborough Gives Stark Warning in New BBC Climate ... ›
Kevin T. Smiley
When hurricanes and other extreme storms unleash downpours like Tropical Storm Beta has been doing in the South, the floodwater doesn't always stay within the government's flood risk zones.
New research suggests that nearly twice as many properties are at risk from a 100-year flood today than the Federal Emergency Management Agency's flood maps indicate.
Flooding Outside the Zones<p>About <a href="https://furmancenter.org/files/Floodplain_PopulationBrief_12DEC2017.pdf" target="_blank">15 million</a> Americans live in FEMA's current 100-year flood zones. The designation warns them that their properties face a 1% risk of flooding in any given year. They must obtain flood insurance if they want a federally ensured loan – insurance that helps them recover from flooding.</p><p>In Greater Houston, however, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1539-6924.2012.01840.x" target="_blank">47% of claims</a> made to FEMA across three decades before Hurricane Harvey were outside of the 100-year flood zones. Harris County, recognizing that FEMA flood maps don't capture the full risk, now <a href="https://www.hcfcd.org/floodinsurance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recommends that every household</a> in Houston and the rest of the county have flood insurance.</p><p>New risk models point to a similar conclusion: Flood risk in these areas outstrips expectations in the current FEMA flood maps.</p><p>One of those models, from the <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/2020-national-flood-risk-assessment-highlights/" target="_blank">First Street Foundation</a>, estimates that the number of properties at risk in a 100-year storm is 1.7 times higher than the FEMA maps suggest. Other <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aaac65" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers</a> find an even higher margin, with 2.6 to 3.1 times more people exposed to serious flooding in a 100-year storm than FEMA estimates.</p>
What FEMA’s Flood Maps Miss<p>Understanding why areas outside the 100-year flood zones are flooding more often than the FEMA maps suggest involves larger social and environmental issues. Three reasons stand out.</p><p>First, some places rely on relatively old FEMA maps that don't account for recent urbanization.</p><p>Urbanization matters because impervious surfaces – think pavement and buildings – are not effective sponges like natural landscapes can be. Moreover, the process for updating floodplain maps is locally variable and can take years to complete. Famously, New York City was updating its maps when Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 but hadn't finished, meaning flood maps in effect <a href="https://projects.propublica.org/nyc-flood/" target="_blank">were from 1983</a>. FEMA is required to assess whether updates are needed every five years, but the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/cis/nation.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">majority of maps</a> <a href="https://www.oig.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/assets/2017/OIG-17-110-Sep17.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">are older</a>.</p><p>Second, binary thinking can lead people to an underaccounting of risk, and that can mean communities fail to take steps that could protect a neighborhood from flooding. The logic goes: if I'm not in the 100-year floodplain, then I'm not at risk. Risk perception <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/ab195a" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> backs this up. FEMA-delineated flood zones are the major factor shaping flood mitigation behaviors.</p><p>Third, the era of climate change scuttles conventional assumptions.</p><p>As the planet warms, extreme storms are becoming <a href="https://nca2018.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank">more common and severe</a>. If greenhouse gas emissions continue to increase at a high rate, computer models suggest that the chances of a severe storm dropping 20 inches of rain on Texas in any given year will increase from about 1% at the end of the last century to 18% at the end of this one, a chance of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1716222114" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">once every 5.5 years</a>. So far, <a href="https://www.rstreet.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/195.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FEMA hasn't taken into account the impact climate change is having</a> on extreme weather and sea level rise.</p>
Racial Disparities in Flooding Outside the Zones<p>So, who is at risk?</p><p>Years of research and evidence from storms have highlighted social inequalities in areas with a high risk of flooding. But most local governments have less understanding of the social and demographic composition of communities that experience flood impacts outside of flood zones.</p><p>In analyzing the damage from Hurricane Harvey in the Houston area, I found that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1088/1748-9326/aba0fe" target="_blank">Black and Hispanic residents disproportionately experienced flooding</a> in areas beyond FEMA's 100-year flood zones.</p><p>With the majority of flooding from Hurricane Harvey occurring outside of 100-year flood zones, this meant that the overall impact of Harvey was racially unequal too.</p><p>Research into where flooding occurs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix points to some of the potential causes. <a href="https://www.nap.edu/read/25381/chapter/4#16" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In Baltimore and Chicago</a>, for example, aging storm and sewer infrastructure, poor construction and insufficient efforts to mitigate flooding are part of the flooding problem in some predominantly Black neighborhoods.</p>
What Can Be Done About It<p>Better accounting for those three reasons could substantively improve risk assessments and help cities prioritize infrastructure improvements and flood mitigation projects in these at-risk neighborhoods.</p><p>For example, First Street Foundation's risk maps account for <a href="https://firststreet.org/flood-lab/research/flood-model-methodology_overview/" target="_blank">climate change</a> and present <a href="https://floodfactor.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ratings</a> on a scale from 1 to 10. FEMA, which works with communities to update flood maps, is <a href="https://www.fema.gov/media-library-data/1521054297905-ca85d066dddb84c975b165db653c9049/TMAC_2017_Annual_Report_Final508(v8)_03-12-2018.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">exploring rating systems</a>. And the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine recently <a href="https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2019/03/new-report-calls-for-different-approaches-to-predict-and-understand-urban-flooding" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">called for a new generation of flood maps</a> that takes climate change into account.</p><p>Including recent urbanization in those assessments will matter too, especially in fast-growing cities like Houston, where <a href="https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1boBRyDvMFW6W" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">386 new square miles</a> of impervious surfaces were created in the last 20 years. That's greater than the land area of New York City. New construction in one area can also <a href="https://scalawagmagazine.org/2018/01/city-in-a-swamp-as-houston-booms-its-flood-problems-are-only-getting-worse/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">impact older neighborhoods downhill</a> during a flood, as some Houston communities discovered in Hurricane Harvey.</p><p>Improving risk assessments is needed not just to better prepare communities for major flood events, but also to prevent racial inequalities – in housing and beyond – from <a href="https://www.npr.org/2019/03/05/688786177/how-federal-disaster-money-favors-the-rich" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">growing</a> after the unequal impacts of disasters.</p>
- Overlooked Flood Risk Endangers Homeowners - EcoWatch ›
- Florida Coastal Flooding Maps: Residents Deny Predicted Risks to ... ›
- Flooding Risk for U.S. Homes: Millions More Are Vulnerable Than ... ›