Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Successful encouragement of oil on the New England Grid.

Cold in New England, and Going to Stay Cold

I decided to tell this blog as a series of pictures.  

I will start with a screen shot that I took of the weather report, at about 5:30 this evening. (Note that "Hartford" refers to the town of Hartford Vermont, where I live.)  It was 7 degrees F at that time, with a drop to minus 16 expected tonight.  The next few days are expected to have single digit high temperatures and minus temperatures of two digits (minus 10, etc)
Weather at 5:30 pm and forecast

So, how is the grid doing? Fairly well, actually.  At 5:30, I took this picture, showing that the LMP (local marginal prices) were running at about 20 cents a kWh. ($200 a MWh translates to 20 cents per kWh.) The graphics below are screen shots from ISO-NE. I took my snaps at 5:30 at this ISO page, which is updated every 5 minutes.

Grid prices and electricity use at 5:30 p.m. and throughout the day

As you can see by the retrospective graphs to the left of the map, prices have been up and down between $100 and $250  (10 cents and 25 cents per kWh) most of the day.

Oil on the Grid

During cold snaps, gas pipelines must supply homes first, and gas-fired power plants get short-changed.  ISO-NE has a Winter Reliability Program which mainly compensates gas-fired power plants for keeping fuel on site: oil or LNG or CNG. (Liquefied or compressed natural gas.) The grid was running about 22% oil at 5:30 this evening.

The current Winter Reliability program is described in an update presentation, given December 7,  2017  by Anne George of ISO-NE. On page 5, Ms. George describes the current winter reliability program, which pays oil and gas fired generators to have fuel on site.  (Page numbers are at the lower right of each viewgraph.) On page 18, she describes how the forward capacity auctions are attracting new generation, even as older plants retire.  Specifically, ISO-NE is attracting new dual-fired natural gas resources: gas turbines that can also burn oil, and therefore can store oil on-site for cold weather.

ISO-NE's attempt to provide winter electricity by encouraging oil use in cold weather is working.  The next picture shows (among other things) the fuel mix at 5:30 on the New England Grid. 

Fuel use at 5:30 p.m. and throughout the day
You can see that 25% of the electricity was supplied by nuclear, 24% by natural gas, 22% by oil, and 11% by renewables.  Usually, the grid runs closer to 50% natural gas and just a few percent oil. If you go to viewgraph 19 of the ISO-NE presentation,  you can see that natural gas is expected to be 55% of normal generation, and oil is the merest sliver on the graph.

The Renewables

In the chart above, renewables are making 11% of the power on the grid.  This is on the high side. (Viewgraph 19 of the ISO presentation shows renewables making 5%, for example.)  The high contribution of renewables is due to the wind.

In my experience of New England, really cold weather is often deathly still.  Not this time.  The wind is blowing, the windchill factor is serious, and the wind turbines are making considerable amounts of energy.  Wind turbines are making 50%  of the renewable power on the grid, as you can see in the chart below.  Basically, the other 50% of the renewable power is being made by burning wood and refuse. That power is pretty steady: the wind contribution goes up and down.

Since wind is making half the renewable power on the grid, and renewables are making 11% of the power on the grid, therefore,  the wind turbines are making 5.5% of the power on the grid. 

 The chart below shows the percentage of renewables on the grid at 5:30 p.m. 
Renewables on the grid at 5:30 p.m. 50% of the renewable power is from wind

The End of the Grid Tour

I am pleased that it is both cold and windy. (Actually, I am not that pleased about it. I have to live here, after all.)  I also know ISO must be fuel-neutral, so dual-fuel gas-fired generators are considered good. However, I can't help but think that using more oil in the winter is a step back for New England, not  a step forward.  

If you want, you can go to the ISO site, and watch the grid.  Or if you don't live in New England, look up your own grid, and do a compare-and-contrast. I would love it if you would comment on this article.

(An article from about four years ago in similar weather: The Cold Truth on the New England Grid.)


briancam said...

Very Good -- Newly planned 900 MW gas plant will help meet ISO-NE capacity concerns. Invenergy has announced plans to develop the 900-MW Clear River Energy Center in Burrillville, R.I., designed to help offset thousands of megawatts retiring in New England in the next several years Like NRC Lic 2032 CLOSED 2014 VT YANKEE & Retiring 2019 Pilgrim Nuclear. It can burn OIL TOO. Emissions go UP in Oil mode but Gas burning Smog O3 + NOx are bad in normal mode too oh 3 Millions Tons Emission / yr.

Steve Aplin said...

Deep freeze up here too (Ontario), and I estimate current (six a.m. Thursday Dec 28) provincial heat demand to be roughly 43.7 million kW, assuming each of the 4.6 million households in this province is currently maintaining an indoor temperature of 18.3°C (64.9°F).

I write this at a desk with a thermometer indicating 22°C, I'm fully clothed with no sweater and it feels too chilly.

Provincial electrical demand at six a.m. is 16.1 million kW. I estimate that about 10 percent of the heat demand is being met by electricity, leaving ~39 million kW met by combustible fuels, mostly natural gas but significant amounts of "biomass" in those parts of the province not served by gas and where electricity prices are horrendously high.

i.e., heat demand served by combustible fuels is nearly three and a quarter times the non-heating electrical demand.

Call me Chicken Little, but I worry like hell when it's cold like this. Any disruption in the delivery of gas, and millions of people would be in a dire situation pretty much instantly. Very few are prepared to deal with such circumstances. Electricity systems in cold ares would quickly be overwhelmed as people turn on stoves and hair dryers etc.

If we heated primarily with electricity, we'd be much better hardened against a sudden fuel shortage. Nuclear plants as you know have months' worth of fuel on site, giving those jurisdictions with high proportions of nuclear generation (e.g. Ontario) important insurance against these calamities.

This would require pretty significant changes in urban distribution infrastructure, not to mention generation capacity. But all this is being considered anyway as part of the 100 percent renewables fantasy. So maybe you could say we're headed partly in the right direction.

We just all need to avoid or reverse terrible decisions like Yankee, and build more nuclear plants.

Stay warm Meredith!

Meredith Angwin said...

Brian. Yes, as I recall, that plant bid into the forward capacity auction a few years ago, and ISO-NE was very glad to see it. Dual fuel! What could be better! (/sarcasm) Thank you for the comment.

Steve, I worry in this weather also. Serious disruptions in the gas supplies could have huge consequences. A less immediate concern is what happens with a gas grid and gas pipeline dependency when the price of gas does its volatile-up thing instead of its recent volatile-down thing?

In terms of being chilly at home: we have a well-insulated house, but it really doesn't stand up to minus 15 and windy. It feels chilly at any thermostat setting. Luckily, I have quite a collection of fleece jackets to wear at home!

Thank you for the comments!

Joseph T. said...

It is no particular surprise that a way would be found to keep the grid running. People will demand it, and the providers will do what they have to do to keep up with demand. Remember that during one cold spell the turbines were running with jet fuel. The question is always what will be the cost (monetary and other) to do that. The answer is always higher pollution and more contribution to global climate change, and, of demand remains high, higher prices for consumers.