NERC 10-year grid reliability report contains nuanced warnings that many fail to understand
Greentech Media recently published another article claiming that there is a new report that supports its contention that the NOPR – Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to establish a Grid Resilience Pricing Rule – Sec. of Energy Perry sent to FERC is misguided.
I cannot help but wonder if the author read the report. If he did, I then have to wonder about his reading comprehension skills.
It’s difficult to get through the executive summary without opening a new window to begin searching for a decent deal on a whole house generating system. Of course, such a system wouldn’t be of much use if there are physical or cyber security issues that interfere with fuel delivery. We don’t yet have the option of a truly capable off-grid generating system remotely similar to the one my boat used to have.
Somehow, Mr. St. John drew comfort from the report that made me spend a few minutes in family and self protection mode. Here is the key message that he took from the 2017 version of NERC’s Long Term Reliability Assessment.
But Thursday’s report found that, despite the rising closures of coal and nuclear power plants, “new resources, which are primarily natural gas and renewable generation, should collectively provide the bulk power system with the same level of voltage support, frequency response and other essential reliability services as conventional generators.”
This assessment aligns with most other analyses on the effects that record-low natural gas prices, flat or declining electricity demand, and state mandates and incentives for renewable energy are having on the grid. While these and other factors are putting older coal and nuclear power plants under financial pressure, any resulting retirements aren’t expected to reduce key reliability measures.
That is not what the report tells me. In the front matter, it states that the conditions evaluated are essentially a best case scenario because it does not consider the possible impact of “[r]eliability impacts related to physical and cybersecurity risks.”
Even if someone were to skip over that important limitation statement, it should be difficult to misread the following recommendation directly related to the effect Sec. Perry is trying to accomplish by requesting – with a near term deadline – FERC to implement measures designed to slow or halt nuclear and coal plant early retirements.
Recognize time needed to maintain reliability: State, federal, and provincial regulators should continue to recognize lead times for generation, transmission, and natural gas infrastructure needed to maintain reliability as industry strives to meet policy goals and initives. Reliable operation of the BPS [bulk power system] requires dependable capacity with fuel assurance to address consumer needs, impacts of extreme weather conditions, and sudden disturbances on the system.
Mr. St. John also noted that nuclear and coal’s competitors have been virtually united in their opposition to measures that would prevent early retirements. That’s no surprise, but it is a characteristic of this particular discussion that should cause serious concern among the vast majority of people who are electricity buyers, not sellers.
Here is a slightly edited version of the comment that I added to the conversation at Greentech Media.
It’s a misunderstanding of reality to describe “nearly unanimous” opposition to the proposed Grid Resilience Pricing Rule from the “energy sector” with the dismissive exception of “coal and nuclear.”
If power plants or fuel sources had votes – which they don’t – each source’s vote would not be equal. A representative democracy in this situation would have to be more like the United Nations where each country has a say, but some nations have a much greater say than others.
If we add coal and nuclear together, they represent slightly more than 50% of the U.S. electricity production each year. Between them, they probably represent more than 50% of the difficult to measure “grid reliability services” that keep our electricity the ubiquitous tool that is the envy – and goal – of most developing nations.
For careful readers who understand risk communications and national level planning considerations, the NERC report contains clear statements about its limitations. It tells us that, barring physical events like gas pipeline explosions or unexplained cracks in key transmission pipes and barring cyber security type attacks, we do not necessarily NEED coal and nuclear plants to assure adequate capacity to deliver electricity.
That kind of qualified statement doesn’t provide much comfort to those of us who can remember numerous historical events. It doesn’t even reassure people who have no memory of distant history but who do pay attention to current events in the energy industry.
Right NOW, the European Union is facing the kind of natural gas delivery event that Sec Perry was obliquely referring to when he told people that grid resilience was a matter of national security. A few days ago, a hairline crack was discovered in a major oil and gas pipeline in the UK. Investigations and repairs will take an indeterminate period of time. Until complete, a major segment of the North Sea oil and gas supply cannot be delivered to the market.
A few days after that crack shut down a major supply to the UK, there was a fatal explosion in a gas distribution station in Austria that interrupted a substantial source of natural gas from Russia. That explosion virtually eliminated Italy’s Russian sourced gas supply.
People will still get most of the electricity that they need, but some might not get all that they want. There are no credible estimates of the prices that they will have to pay during the period where gas supplies are tighter than expected. Normal winter weather patterns MIGHT make the situation even worse.
Please, please understand that people who are responsible for taking appropriate actions to avoid situations like these here in the U.S. are generally reticent people who do not make inflammatory, dire predictions.
Just because they couch their reports in seemingly gentle statements that highlight the situational limitations of statements about reliability does not mean that they are comfortable with allowing even more reliable production to be replaced by generators whose capabilities are tenuously dependent on just-in-time fuel delivery systems or the weather.
Publisher, Atomic Insights
It is past time to start talking up the European problems which will be our problems if we follow the Greens any further. Reports on factory closures, children wearing winter coats indoors in school, and anything else would help to open some eyes.
Careful, or BAS will be back.
Probably not until his contract is renewed in 2018.
Oops. My snarky agreement disappeared because I couched it in angle brackets. Old Usenet form of expression.
Try using < to get <
Thank you Engineer-Poet, I appreciate the help.
I’ve learned a few things since Uselessnet was big. <smirk>
One such natural gas hub feeding about half of New England’s electricity can be found in a town in Connecticut.
Off topic but the future of Vogtle just darkened:
They will be fine as renewable tax credits were retained. SOMETHING has to supplement/backup the renewables.
Isn’t it past time in this country where we tried a pilot plant of one of those new reactor technologies? I’ve got nothing against old light water technology, but it’s time to innovate. The plants I used to work at used 1960s technology. We’ve made improvements in technology since then. Newer plants could load swing, have less waste, higher thermal efficiency, hopefully cost less to construct, etc. They could compliment the “renewables” and give the public essentially zero greenhouse gases.
The country spends copious quantities of cash on the security of the United States. It seems like a safe secure energy source would be an extremely worthwhile investment.
I’m pretty sure I’m preaching to the choir on this one, bit I don’t see why the folks in charge don’t see it that way.
Other than NuScale, the new ideas are limited to computer simulations and artist conceptions. The current cost of innovation in nuclear power is prohibitively high. In contrast, look at what the low cost of innovation in computers and aviation (the early years at least) accomplished.
In retrospect, the money spent by DoE propping up Vogtle would have been better spent accelerating the NuScale licensing/prototype construction process.
(bah, forgot to switch to FireFox compatibility and comment got eaten.)
Had Congress appropriated the money, we could have done both. We probably should have; all our eggs should not be in one basket, neither AP1000 nor NuScale.
Speaking of NuScale, I note that the swimming-pool reactor design being contemplated by China to replace coal-fired district heat is supposed to be around 400 MW(t). This is some 2.5 times the output of a NuScale. A single NuScale could probably supply district heat for tens of thousands of homes as well as commercial buildings, low-temperature process heat such as drying, etc.
Of course the “new” sources, natural gas and renewables, can, together, make up for closed coal and nuclear sources.
In the same way that Jeff Bezos and my neighbour can, together, start new companies to make up for the retail stores closed.
Well, at least replacing coal fired generation with natural gas is an improvement. Glass half full.
Until the price of gas goes back through the roof. Then it will still be a win for the air, but big punch in the nose for the consumer. And possibly a death sentence for some consumers.
The local Fossil power station has completed converting one of their furnaces from coal to NG. There is now a plume of H2O coming from the stack, going straight up to about 2,000 feet where it creates its own cloud. Even on the coldest days of winter I never so the slightest trace of any emmissions comming from the stack. So, if H2O is 20 times worse of a GHG than CO2, how much effect does this new cloud have on climate change?
Since the thermodynamic efficiency of a natural gas powered steam cycle is the same or greater than a coal powered steam cycle, there should be no difference or perhaps a reduction of rejected steam on a per MWe basis since more of the energy is going into the grid than the atmosphere.
Probably a temperature-reducing one. The low-lying cloud reflects solar radiation, and being low and about as warm as the ground it radiates well to space. The excess H2O precipitates out within days.
New information on how Cosmic Radiation interacts with the water vapor in the air creating Clouds which cool the earth.
Note that “Nature” is not Climate Skeptics organization.
There is a hypothesis that as the earth passes through varying intensities of the galactic cosmic ray field and variation in the solar wind act to shield/unshield the earth from cosmic rays. There is a book, “The Chilling Stars” that discusses this. An experiment called CLOUD was performed at CERN’s LHC to take advantage of the high energy protons produced there to see the impact on cloud formation. The experiment concluded cosmic rays can alter cloud formation (as in a cloud chamber) but the effect is too small. Nother book, “The Neglected Sun” discusses the solar wind effect. Interestingly, solar activity has been very low over the past few years (allowing increased cosmic ray fluence) just as global temperature rise has entered a hiatus.
One of the authors of the paper cited is Svensmark who authored “The Chilling Stars”.
I believe it was methane CH4 that was much worse than Carbon Dioxide CO2. I’ve only heard of water vapor H2O causing trouble if it freezes on roads, etc.
My understanding is that, while H2O is a greenhouse gas, any amount generated by human activities pales in comparison to the amount evaporated from the oceans.
Rich, did the plant switch from once-through cooling using a lake or river to using a tower?
No, still have once through – plant is next to river and at least as old as me if not older. Only see the cloud, which is definitely coming out of the stacks, is usually only visible when it is colder than about 20 degrees F. The plant was not dumping steam into the stack before they converted.
Been to long since I used chemistry, however, Google Answers claims that when “1 cubic meter of methane gas at STP burns, it produces 0.668 pounds of water (three significant figures).
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