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.
By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
Despite a journey to this moment even more treacherous than expected, Americans now have a fresh opportunity to act, decisively, on climate change.
The authors of the many new books released in just the past few months (or scheduled to be published soon) seem to have anticipated this pivotal moment.
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EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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