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World's Largest Grid Operator Reveals Why Increased Wind Energy Means Increased Savings

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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.

PJM renewable resource boundary and hypothetical onshore and offshore wind sites. Graphic credit: GE Consulting

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.

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The patient in the case report (let's call him Tom) was 54 and in good health. For two days in May, he felt unwell and was too weak to get out of bed. When his family finally brought him to the hospital, doctors found that he had a fever and signs of a severe infection, or sepsis. He tested positive for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 infection. In addition to symptoms of COVID-19, he was also too weak to move his legs.

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We are neurologists specializing in intensive care and leading studies related to neurological complications from COVID-19. Given the occurrence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in prior pandemics with other corona viruses like SARS and MERS, we are investigating a possible link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19 and tracking published reports to see if there is any link between Guillain-Barre Syndrome and COVID-19.

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What Is Guillain-Barre Syndrome?

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body's own immune system attacks and injures the nerves outside of the spinal cord or brain – the peripheral nervous system. Most commonly, the injury involves the protective sheath, or myelin, that wraps nerves and is essential to nerve function.

Without the myelin sheath, signals that go through a nerve are slowed or lost, which causes the nerve to malfunction.

To diagnose Guillain-Barre Syndrome, neurologists perform a detailed neurological exam. Due to the nerve injury, patients often may have loss of reflexes on examination. Doctors often need to perform a lumbar puncture, otherwise known as spinal tap, to sample spinal fluid and look for signs of inflammation and abnormal antibodies.

Studies have shown that giving patients an infusion of antibodies derived from donated blood or plasma exchange – a process that cleans patients' blood of harmful antibodies - can speed up recovery. A very small subset of patients may need these therapies long-term.

The majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients improve within a few weeks and eventually can make a full recovery. However, some patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome have lingering symptoms including weakness and abnormal sensations in arms and/or legs; rarely patients may be bedridden or disabled long-term.

Guillain-Barre Syndrome and Pandemics

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the globe, many neurologic specialists have been on the lookout for potentially serious nervous system complications such as Guillain-Barre Syndrome.

Though Guillain-Barre Syndrome is rare, it is well known to emerge following bacterial infections, such as Campylobacter jejuni, a common cause of food poisoning, and a multitude of viral infections including the flu virus, Zika virus and other coronaviruses.

Studies showed an increase in Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases following the 2009 H1N1 flu pandemic, suggesting a possible connection. The presumed cause for this link is that the body's own immune response to fight the infection turns on itself and attacks the peripheral nerves. This is called an "autoimmune" condition. When a pandemic affects as many people as our current COVID-19 crisis, even a rare complication can become a significant public health problem. That is especially true for one that causes neurological dysfunction where the recovery takes a long time and may be incomplete.

The first reports of Guillain-Barre Syndrome in COVID-19 pandemic originated from Italy, Spain and China, where the pandemic surged before the U.S. crisis.

Though there is clear clinical suspicion that COVID-19 can lead to Guillain-Barre Syndrome, many important questions remain. What are the chances that someone gets Guillain-Barre Syndrome during or following a COVID-19 infection? Does Guillain-Barre Syndrome happen more often in those who have been infected with COVID-19 compared to other types of infections, such as the flu?

The only way to get answers is through a prospective study where doctors perform systematic surveillance and collect data on a large group of patients. There are ongoing large research consortia hard at work to figure out answers to these questions.

Understanding the Association Between COVID-19 and Guillain-Barre Syndrome

While large research studies are underway, overall it appears that Guillain-Barre Syndrome is a rare but serious phenomenon possibly linked to COVID-19. Given that more than 10.7 million cases have been reported for COVID-19, there have been 10 reported cases of COVID-19 patients with Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far – only two reported cases in the U.S., five in Italy, two cases in Iran and one from Wuhan, China.

It is certainly possible that there are other cases that have not been reported. The Global Consortium Study of Neurological Dysfunctions in COVID-19 is actively underway to find out how often neurological problems like Guillain-Barre Syndrome is seen in hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Also, just because Guillain-Barre Syndrome occurs in a patient diagnosed with COVID-19, that does not imply that it was caused by the virus; this still may be a coincident occurrence. More research is needed to understand how the two events are related.

Due to the pandemic and infection-containment considerations, diagnostic tests, such as a nerve conduction study that used to be routine for patients with suspected Guillain-Barre Syndrome, are more difficult to do. In both U.S. cases, the initial diagnosis and treatment were all based on clinical examination by a neurological experts rather than any tests. Both patients survived but with significant residual weakness at the time these case reports came out, but that is not uncommon for Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients. The road to recovery may sometimes be long, but many patients can make a full recovery with time.

Though the reported cases of Guillain-Barre Syndrome so far all have severe symptoms, this is not uncommon in a pandemic situation where the less sick patients may stay home and not present for medical care for fear of being exposed to the virus. This, plus the limited COVID-19 testing capability across the U.S., may skew our current detection of Guillain-Barre Syndrome cases toward the sicker patients who have to go to a hospital. In general, the majority of Guillain-Barre Syndrome patients do recover, given enough time. We do not yet know whether this is true for COVID-19-related cases at this stage of the pandemic. We and colleagues around the world are working around the clock to find answers to these critical questions.

Sherry H-Y. Chou is an Associate Professor of Critical Care Medicine, Neurology, and Neurosurgery, University of Pittsburgh.

Aarti Sarwal is an Associate Professor, Neurology, Wake Forest University.

Neha S. Dangayach is an Assistant Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

Disclosure statement: Sherry H-Y. Chou receives funding from The University of Pittsburgh Clinical Translational Science Institute (CTSI), the National Institute of Health, and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Dean's Faculty Advancement Award. Sherry H-Y. Chou is a member of Board of Directors for the Neurocritical Care Society. Neha S. Dangayach receives funding from the Bee Foundation, the Friedman Brain Institute, the Neurocritical Care Society, InCHIP-UConn Center for mHealth and Social Media Seed Grant. She is faculty for emcrit.org and for AiSinai. Aarti Sarwal does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.


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In a series of tweets Wednesday night, Ocasio-Cortez—the lead sponsor of the House Green New Deal resolution—noted that the Climate Task Force "shaved 15 years off Biden's previous target for 100% clean energy."

"Of course, like in any collaborative effort, there are areas of negotiation and compromise," said the New York Democrat. "But I do believe that the Climate Task Force effort meaningfully and substantively improved Biden's positions."

 

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Sanders said that while the "end result isn't what I or my supporters would've written alone, the task forces have created a good policy blueprint that will move this country in a much-needed progressive direction and substantially improve the lives of working families throughout our country."

"I look forward to working with Vice President Biden to help him win this campaign," the Vermont senator added, "and to move this country forward toward economic, racial, social, and environmental justice."

Biden, for his part, applauded the task forces "for helping build a bold, transformative platform for our party and for our country."

"I am deeply grateful to Bernie Sanders for working with us to unite our party and deliver real, lasting change for generations to come," said the former vice president.

On the life-or-death matter of reforming America's dysfunctional private health insurance system—a subject on which Sanders and Biden clashed repeatedly throughout the Democratic primary process—the Unity Task Force affirmed healthcare as "a right" but did not embrace Medicare for All, the signature policy plank of the Vermont senator's presidential bid.

Instead, the panel recommended building on the Affordable Care Act by establishing a public option, investing in community health centers, and lowering prescription drug costs by allowing the federal government to negotiate prices. The task force also endorsed making all Covid-19 testing, treatments, and potential vaccines free and expanding Medicaid for the duration of the pandemic.

"It has always been a crisis that tens of millions of Americans have no or inadequate health insurance—but in a pandemic, it's potentially catastrophic for public health," the task force wrote.

Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, a former Michigan gubernatorial candidate and Sanders-appointed member of the Healthcare Task Force, said that despite major disagreements, the panel "came to recommendations that will yield one of the most progressive Democratic campaign platforms in history—though we have further yet to go."

 

Observers and advocacy groups also applauded the Unity Task Forces for recommending the creation of a postal banking system, endorsing a ban on for-profit charter schools, ending the use of private prisons, and imposing a 100-day moratorium on deportations "while conducting a full-scale study on current practices to develop recommendations for transforming enforcement policies and practices at ICE and CBP."

Marisa Franco, director of immigrant rights group Mijente, said in a statement that "going into these task force negotiations, we knew we were going to have to push Biden past his comfort zone, both to reconcile with past offenses and to carve a new path forward."

"That is exactly what we did, unapologetically," said Franco, a member of the Immigration Task Force. "For years, Mijente, along with the broader immigrant rights movement, has fought to reshape the narrative around immigration towards racial justice and to focus these very demands. We expect Biden and the Democratic Party to implement them in their entirety."

"There is no going back," Franco added. "Not an inch, not a step. We must only move forward from here."

Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.