March 10, 2014
by John Moore
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Nation’s Largest Grid Operator: Huge Renewables Expansion Won’t Be a Problem

John Moore, Senior Attorney – The Sustainable FERC Project, Chicago

PJM Interconnection, the nation’s largest power transmission grid organization, announced last week that wind and solar power could generate about 30 percent of PJM’s total electricity for its territory covering the Mid-Atlantic region and part of the Midwest by 2026 without “any significant issues.” That’s engineer-speak for “no big deal.” Even better, we would see more clean power at less cost and with far less pollution than our current mix of coal and natural gas power plants.

PJM’s new renewables integration report, prepared for it by General Electric, is required reading for anyone who questions the ability of the electric grid to handle large amounts of wind, solar, and other renewable energy. GE estimates that about 113,000 megawatts (MW) of installed wind and solar power resources (including distributed/generation), could produce about 30 percent of the region’s total energy. That’s enough energy to power 23.5 million homes annually. Here’s the breakdown of the resource mix in one of the scenarios studied in the report:

Resource Mix.png

Significant benefits from more clean energy

The report estimates that 30 percent wind and solar power in PJM would bring the following benefits:

  • 40 percent less carbon pollution than “business as usual.”
  • Lower average energy prices across PJM’s footprint – because wind and solar would avoid $15.6 billion in coal and natural gas fuel costs.
  • Very little additional power (only 1500 MW) needed to support the minute-to-minute variability of the renewable power (like when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow).
  • No additional operating (known as “spinning”) reserves needed for backup power. (Wow!)
  • 44 percent less gas-fired generation and 21 percent less coal-fired generation—which also reduces the amount of carbon pollution emitted into the atmosphere.

The benefits, which really are stunning, derive primarily from several facts: 1) solar and wind power have zero fuel cost, which makes up most of the price of energy; 2) these resources are now commercially available and competitive with other power; 3) they produce zero carbon and other pollution; and 4) PJM’s large size over 14 states significantly reduces the magnitude of weather-caused variations in power output that can occur during the day and night.

What grid changes may be necessary?

Getting all of this additional clean energy will require more transmission lines, which PJM’s study estimated would cost $8 billion – which is far less the $15.6 billion in energy savings. But even that’s probably an exaggeration, since PJM’s study looked only at renewable energy expansion inside PJM. It didn’t consider, for example, the savings from importing some of the wind power from the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa, or other parts of the wind-rich Midwest and Great Plains. When you factor in those possibilities, the total transmission cost of achieving the 30% renewables integration could be lower than PJM’s predictions.

The study also recommends several relatively modest steps that PJM can take to successfully integrate these resources into the system. They include changes to the way PJM operates its energy markets and dispatches power on a minute-to-minute basis, taking a more detailed look at reserve requirements, and potentially improving the “flexibility” of so-called “base load plants to better integrate them with renewable energy resources.

Looking to the future/next steps

This study gives consumers, states, utilities, and others food for thought in several areas:

First, it’s clear that the grid can handle high levels of renewable power without compromising reliability. Of course, we already know this because the Midwest and Texas grids have seen wind energy constitute a significant portion of the power on the grid at a given time. The PJM study affirms that the grid can handle much higher power levels. It also provides a stepping stone to evaluating the impacts and savings of even more renewable power on the grid, which will be a top priority for states looking to satisfy the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s upcoming carbon pollution rules for existing power plants.

Second, as conventional power sources become less of the total energy production mix, power markets will need to evolve to encourage the development of complementary conventional resources. This is a critical point. PJM’s study shows that existing coal and gas resources are going to suffer revenue losses; indeed, PJM even suggested that it might be necessary to consider raising energy prices to compensate for the lost revenue. No, no, no. A better way is to look into redesigning PJM’s existing long-term power supply market (called a “forward capacity market”) so that it, in combination with reasonable state power preferences, assures the right supply of conventional power sources are available to support renewable power.

Third, PJM’s study was done in a relative vacuum; it didn’t consider how several grid regions, working together, could manage significantly more clean power. PJM and the other grid operators across the country need to work more cooperatively: do the studies and other work necessary to show states across the country that power-sharing (literally) saves even more money than for each region to plan for its own resources. FERC has encouraged this cooperation by issuing interregional coordination requirements in its landmark Order 1000 (more about that here) but the regions can do more, and they don’t need to wait for further instructions from Washington.

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February 3, 2014
by MoreRecycling
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India wants to build a solar project so large (4,000 megawatts), it would dwarf all others!

India currently depends on coal for more than half of its electricity production, but it also gets a lot of sun, giving it the potential to become a solar power titan in the future. Continue reading

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July 31, 2013
by MoreRecycling
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World Solar Power Topped 100,000 Megawatts in 2012

The world installed 31,100 megawatts of solar photovoltaics (PV) in 2012—an all-time annual high that pushed global PV capacity above 100,000 megawatts. Continue reading

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June 11, 2013
by MoreRecycling
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The US added 723 megawatts of solar power during the first 3 months of 2013

During the first quarter of 2013, the U.S. has added 723 megawatts (MW) of new solar capacity to its power grid, a 33% growth rate year-on-year. Continue reading

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April 3, 2013
by MoreRecycling
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After Record 2012, World Wind Power Set to Top 300,000 Megawatts in 2013

Even amid policy uncertainty in major wind power markets, wind developers still managed to set a new record for installations in 2012, with 44,000 megawatts of new wind capacity worldwide. Continue reading

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March 19, 2013
by MoreRecycling
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World’s tallest solar tower (750 feet) to be erected in California… Twice

Brightsource and Abengoa are currently working on a 500 megawatts concentrated solar project in California that would be composed of twin 250-megawatt units with what should be the tallest solar towers in the world. Continue reading

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February 18, 2013
by MoreRecycling
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U.S. added 147 megawatts of geothermal energy in 2012

Geothermal power has a promising future, but so far it has lagged behind most of its other renewable energy cousins, especially wind and solar. Continue reading

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January 2, 2013
by MoreRecycling
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New U.S. Wind Power Capacity Might Beat Natural Gas and Coal in 2012

We only have data up to November 30th so far, so we can’t be sure what the final 2012 numbers will look like, but for the first 11 months of the year, new installed wind power in the United States adds up to 6,519 megawatts. Continue reading

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October 11, 2012
by Anjali Jaiswal
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Concentrated Solar Power in India: How Government Policies Can Help Ensure a Secure Energy Future

Anjali Jaiswal, Senior Attorney, San Francisco
After experiencing the world’s largest blackout this past summer, India is urgently searching for ways to improve the stability of its electric grid. Hundreds of millions of people ne… Continue reading

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July 30, 2012
by Amanda Maxwell
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Latin America Climate, Energy and Environment News: 7/23- 7/27/2012

Amanda Maxwell, Latin America Advocate, Washington, DC
Chile
While non-conventional renewable energy (NCRE) currently accounts for 3 percent of Chile’s electricity, there is a portfolio of new NCRE initiatives that would generate… Continue reading

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April 25, 2012
by Frances Beinecke
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India’s Solar Sector Has Grown Rapidly, Driving down Costs and Slashing Pollution

Frances Beinecke, President of NRDC, New York City
India has dramatically expanded its reliance on solar power over the past two years. Solar installations have sprouted across the nation and costs for this clean energy have dropped, ac… Continue reading

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January 10, 2012
by Amrita Batra
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India Environmental News Compilation, December 26th, 2011 – January 1st, 2012

Amrita Batra, Program Assistant, India Initiative and Food and Agriculture, San Francisco
Climate
India against binding pact on emission cuts: Jayanthi
“India will not accept any binding targets under a new post 2020 climate regi… Continue reading

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October 31, 2011
by Vignesh Gowrishankar
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Growing Interest in India’s National Solar Mission

Vignesh Gowrishankar, Sustainable Energy Advocate, New York
Earlier this month, over 150 solar companies bid for the “second batch” of projects allotted under Phase 1 of India’s National Solar Mission. This sustained a… Continue reading

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July 18, 2011
by Amanda Maxwell
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Latin American Climate, Energy and Environment News: Week of 7.10-7.16.2011

Amanda Maxwell, Latin America Advocate, Washington, DC Chile
After several years of uncertainty, executives of the two companies proposing large dam complexes on Patagonian rivers, HidroAysén and Xstrata, indicated that this month they will sign… Continue reading

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August 17, 2010
by Johanna Wald
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NRDC approves first solar project: Lucerne Valley Project

We share exciting news this week as environmental groups, including NRDC, support our first utility scale solar energy project – the Lucerne Valley Solar Project near Victorville in San Bernardino County. This is the first solar power project, an… Continue reading

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