Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The Cold Truth on the New England Grid This Week: A High-Carbon Fuel Mix

The Grid In Winter

I have been following the New England Grid through the extremely cold weather of  the past few days.  As you would expect, electricity prices have been high, demand is high, and so forth.  Here's a typical screen-shot of the Vermont situation this morning.  Electricity prices above 25c per kWh.  (Price of $274 per MWh is 27 cents per kWh.) This screen shot comes from the ISO-NE main website, where the price ticker keeps changing in real time.

That is hardly the highest it has been. Here's some more information from the ISO-NE express page.  You can see that the variation, with moments of 40 cents/kWh today, and they had around 50 cents yesterday. Alas, I didn't take a screen shot yesterday.  (As usual, you can click on the graphics to enlarge them.)

The demand is soaring, also.
Here's a screen shot of the various areas in ISO-NE, including the lines feeding in from Canada, out to New York, and the cross-sound link to Long Island.

Note, you can see all these charts for yourself, real time, by clicking this link. With sub-zero weather, demand and price are soaring.  Of course.

The interesting thing was the fuel mix.

The Fuel Mix in Winter: Nuclear and Natural Gas are Equal

At the bottom of that same page, there's a little pie-chart of the current fuel mix.  This is an astounding pie chart: nuclear and natural gas are neck-and-neck in supplying power right now.   This is despite the fact that ISO-NE often says that New England is overly dependent on natural gas. The ISO-NE statement about closing Vermont Yankee noted that 52% of New England's electricity is generated with natural gas.  

Well, right now, New England's electricity isn't being generated by natural gas.  With a high demand on the grid, nuclear is 27% and natural gas is 28%.  Since nuclear power is reliable, but the amount is rather fixed, the nuclear component didn't go up.  Instead,  the percentage of natural gas has gone down.  In other words, when we need natural gas in New England, it isn't available.

But take a look at that oil percentage: 18%!  And coal at 13%.  

The lack of availability of natural gas is old news.  Indeed, the high percentage for oil shows that the ISO-NE winter reliability program is working.  In that program this fall,  ISO-NE (well, the rate-payers of New England) payed $75 million in capacity payments for oil-burners to have oil on site.   Now that those plants are actually making power, the oil-burners are also getting high prices as they sell their power. The $75 million this fall was a "capacity"payment--a payment to have oil on-site so the oil-fired capacity is available for dispatch.

ISO-NE has made some comments yesterday about the situation in New England. This grid isn't looking particularly good. This article Energy demand, prices soar as temperatures drop in New England quotes ISO-NE as follows:  

ISO-New England, the region's power grid operator, told transmission and generating companies on Tuesday to halt routine maintenance to free up resources for power exports to other regions if necessary, spokeswoman Marcia Blomberg said.

Some electric power plants have switched to burning oil and coal in New England in response to rising natural gas prices, she said.

(Note: This Energy Demand article by Stephen Singer of AP also appears in the Brattleboro Reformer, but I think it may be behind a paywall there.)

The whole situation on the grid is going to get worse next year when Vermont Yankee goes off-line.  That 27% nuclear will shrink and it is very unlikely that new gas lines will have been installed.  I think that coal and oil will be the new normal for the New England grid in winter. 

What about the renewables?

This post isn't particularly about renewables, but it has been windy, and we have had wind power. "Renewables" are 8% of the fuel mix chart above, and clicking on the "renewables" tag on that chart shows the percentage of the various renewables, as below.  Wood and refuse are 66% of the renewables and wind is 32%.  In other words, wind is about a third of 8% of the demand on the grid, or less than 3%.  And it has been windy!  We are not experiencing a mass of still cold air which is typical of winter. This weather system is described as a "vortex."  For what it's worth, production of power from refuse and wood is relatively fixed-capacity, but the amount of wind varies.  This chart covers a time when the wind power was comparatively high. 

I guess it is time to repeat myself a little. Here's the conclusion:

When Vermont Yankee goes off-line, coal and oil will be an even bigger part of the New Normal on the winter grid in New England. 

Update: I recommend this NEI blog post about the grid and nuclear energy: Nuclear Fleet Shrugs Off Polar Vortex, and this article in the Hartford Courant about nuclear supplying more power to the grid than any other fuel on Tuesday afternoon when power demand was high.


Anonymous said...

Excellent, Meredith.

Anonymous said...

Actually at 19,000 MW, demand is not that high. In the heat of the summer, demand can be as high as 25,000 MW. So what is really happening is gas plants are not running at high enough load because they can't get enough gas. So it is actually normal demand and not enough supply. And less supply next winter when VY is gone

Anonymous said...

A really strong argument for keeping the nuke functioning. Of course, I live in Brisbane, so we just don't have weather like that!!