New England Electrical Grid

Joel N. Weber II

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I want to use this thread to discuss the New England electrical grid, including (but not limited to):

  • ISO New England
  • Policies of distribution operators, including solar interconnection
  • State policies regarding renewable energy

We also have an existing thread discussing wind power.
 

Joel N. Weber II

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The fuel security analysis published by ISO New England a few weeks ago is not terribly optimistic that we can avoid rolling blackouts in 2024/2025 if that winter turns out to be somewhat worse than average.

They do make the assumption that Tesla will completely fail to ramp up production of grid scale battery systems, which I think is probably unrealistic, but I think ISO New England's approach of ignoring technological improvements that haven't yet been well demonstrated usually turns out to be right, so it may not be an entirely bad approach. http://reneweconomy.com.au/tesla-big-battery-moves-from-show-boating-to-money-making-93955/ has some discussion of the Tesla Big Battery / Hornsdale Power Reserve in Australia. However, batteries are only really useful for smoothing out mismatches in time of generation vs time of consumption throughout the day, and we do still need to be able to generate enough power during a given 24 hour period. http://theconversation.com/a-month-in-teslas-sa-battery-is-surpassing-expectations-89770 reports the round trip efficiency of the Hornsdale Power Reserve seems to be around 80%, which is worse than I'd been expecting.

Page 8 of ISO New England's study suggests that we'll probably be OK in the case where all of the variables work out favorably, except that they expect that a bunch of oil fired plants might retire if everything else goes well, and that leaves me wishing for a better explanation of why the Forward Capacity Market apparently isn't likely to keep all the oil fired plants around. Does the pay for performance system leave us with a system where generators might be willing to take the risk of just losing out on their performance payments in the worst one winter out of ten, which might not be what we want if we don't want grid outages in that bad winter?

The top of page 9 seems to be describing a natural gas pipeline compressor or the Millstone nuclear plant as being too big for the grid to cope well with a failure.

Page 16 mentions 30 day a year limit on operations of oil fired generation at several plants, apparently because of environmental concerns. I think we ought to have a regulatory framework that says that if we need to exceed that to keep the lights on, we can, but then for the excess, the oil plant owner needs to pay (from the money that they will have built into their generation price bid) for new renewable generation to offset that which will every year produce as much power as the one time excess oil burning did, and perhaps that new renewable generating infrastructure could be donated to a non profit that would give that new renewable electricity away to low income households that use heat pumps as their primary source of heat in the winter, preferably households located as near as possible to the oil fired plants to compensate them for any negative health effects from burning that oil.
 

tangent

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Need to keep Pilgrim online. Potential for roving blackouts in 7 years and a move to take over 5,000 GWh of yearly production out of the system isn't rational.

And especially not rational when those 5,000 GWh are carbon free.
 

tangent

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That would likely require solving the long term waste problem.
Not actually a problem. Nuclear creates the least amount of waste. So little waste that the spent fuel has been safely stored on-site for decades.

Red herring.
 

Uncivil_Engineer

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A little tangential, but this article on Vox uses Pilgrim (and Northern Pass) as a case study of how decarbonization and environmentalism can sometimes move in opposite directions when it comes to nuclear and hydro.
 

tangent

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A little tangential, but this article on Vox uses Pilgrim (and Northern Pass) as a case study of how decarbonization and environmentalism can sometimes move in opposite directions when it comes to nuclear and hydro.
I am sympathetic to the land use concerns about transmission lines coming from Canada. Less so about the concerns over nuclear.

Nuclear has the least environmental impact and least risk. It is a clear win in terms of the environment. More people have probably died falling off roofs installing solar panels than have died or been harmed because of nuclear power accidents.

For Sierra Club and others to de facto support replacing nuclear power with natural gas is asinine and sets us back years on reducing CO2 emissions... and then we are talking about the possibility of rolling blackouts in a few years so even more natural gas power plants.
 

Joel N. Weber II

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A little tangential, but this article on Vox uses Pilgrim (and Northern Pass) as a case study of how decarbonization and environmentalism can sometimes move in opposite directions when it comes to nuclear and hydro.
My understanding is that flooding land to create hydro storage can end up adding carbon to the atmosphere with all the plant matter it destroys and causes to decay, but once you've flooded the area, the damage is done, and actually using power from the hydro plant doesn't make the carbon problem worse. I believe the power New England is considering importing from Canada is power where that damage has already been done and the benefits aren't currently being reaped.
 

Joel N. Weber II

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Nuclear has the least environmental impact and least risk. It is a clear win in terms of the environment. More people have probably died falling off roofs installing solar panels than have died or been harmed because of nuclear power accidents.
By any chance, do you happen to have typed this while being physically located less than a mile away from the Fukushima power plant?

For Sierra Club and others to de facto support replacing nuclear power with natural gas is asinine and sets us back years on reducing CO2 emissions... and then we are talking about the possibility of rolling blackouts in a few years so even more natural gas power plants.
I think we agree that replacing nuclear with natural gas is dumb, and I think New England should be working to import an average of several gigawatts of hydro power from Canada along with building off shore wind farms with several gigawatts of average output (which might only be a thousand large turbines) and building several gigawatts of rooftop solar.

The folks who are claiming there's a significant risk of blackouts are busy pretending that the Hornsdale Power Reserve does not exist; http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-tesla-battery-australia-20171226-story.html has some information about what has already been accomplished with batteries, which will be much more widely available over the next few years.
 

Joel N. Weber II

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That Vox article is misleading where it claims Pilgrim is better than a variable renewable; Pilgrim can't reliably run at full power during the summer peak because the cooling water it pulls from Cape Cod Bay gets too hot. (However, given that the winter peak is probably a bigger problem than the summer peak, maybe there's a limit to how much this is an issue.)

I believe we also had one of the Millstone units fail to contribute during the actual summer peak hour in one of the last few years because of cooling pump failures, less than a week before Pilgrim was unable to run at full power because Cape Cod Bay was getting too warm.
 

CSTH

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By any chance, do you happen to have typed this while being physically located less than a mile away from the Fukushima power plant?
From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster_casualties

In 2013, two years after the incident, the World Health Organization indicated that the residents of the area who were evacuated were exposed to so little radiation that radiation induced health impacts are likely to be below detectable levels.

...

The WHO calculations using this model determined that the most at risk group, infants, who were in the most affected area, would experience an absolute increase in the risk of cancer(of all types) during their lifetime, of approximately 1% due to the accident...

...

(There were however dozens of additional deaths because of the evacuation of the area - old people and hospital patients - and dozens of plant workers who recieved very high doses).

....

By comparison, coal in particular is responsible for 100s of excess deaths in the USA every year. Nuclear is very safe
 

DominusNovus

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My understanding is that flooding land to create hydro storage can end up adding carbon to the atmosphere with all the plant matter it destroys and causes to decay, but once you've flooded the area, the damage is done, and actually using power from the hydro plant doesn't make the carbon problem worse. I believe the power New England is considering importing from Canada is power where that damage has already been done and the benefits aren't currently being reaped.
Hydro is ultimately just very reliable solar power, when you get right down to it. If we could improve pumped storage, basically all solar power cold be just as reliable.
 

curcuas

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re: Northern Pass - preventing high voltage wires from going through a forest isn't environmentalism, it's nimbyism. the impact is minimal and the harms (solely from the environmental perspective) of using coal (or shipped in gas) instead are dramatically worse
 

Joel N. Weber II

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However, there were multiple alternatives to Northern Pass proposed, and so if Northern Pass can't be approved, there might still be multiple viable routes for importing hydro power from Canada.
 

SeamusMcFly

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re: Northern Pass - preventing high voltage wires from going through a forest isn't environmentalism, it's nimbyism. the impact is minimal and the harms (solely from the environmental perspective) of using coal (or shipped in gas) instead are dramatically worse
Environmentalism is more than just about carbon footprints.
The real individuals impacted are the wildlife who live there. The NIMBY's without voices.

Trees can be replanted 1 for 1. The impact to cutting swaths through forests are not just about trees good carbon emissions bad.
 

Joel N. Weber II

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From Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fukushima_Daiichi_nuclear_disaster_casualties

In 2013, two years after the incident, the World Health Organization indicated that the residents of the area who were evacuated were exposed to so little radiation that radiation induced health impacts are likely to be below detectable levels.
https://cleantechnica.com/2018/03/09/fukushima-ice-wall-failing-water-seepage-nuclear-reactors-still-problem/ is not as confidence inspiring as one might like.
 

Joel N. Weber II

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Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Charges

In Somerville, my residential Eversource bill includes a $.0005/kWh ``Renewable Energy Charge'' and a $.01639/kWh ``Energy Efficiency'' charge.

Is that $.0005/kWh the marginal cost of getting 12% renewable energy instead of whatever we'd get by default if the Massachusetts Renewable Portfolio Standard didn't exist?

If we could just give up on energy efficiency and spend 32 times as much money on renewable energy as we do now, would we end up with carbon free electricity?

(I believe I'm actually getting 17% renewable power because of the Somerville Community Choice Aggregation agreement, but my understanding is that, at the very least, the upgrade from 12% to 17% is included in the generation charge.)
 

TallIsGood

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We can't get power lines through Northern New England for Canadian renewables. The local wind and solar aren't base load or demand generation without massive storage that isn't yet available. So, why you can do theoretical math, it won't yet work in practice.
 

Joel N. Weber II

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We could probably have 10 times the wind and solar generation we do now in New England without any significant battery deployment, and it's likely that a year from now Tesla will be producing battery packs a lot faster than they have been in the last several months (apparently there was a new assembly line for a part of the battery packs that was working in Germany a few months ago and disassembled to be shipped toward Nevada; it's unclear whether it's actually working yet in Nevada, but if not they're probably working on debugging it, and once they get it working right they will probably make many more copies of it).

https://reneweconomy.com.au/the-stunning-numbers-behind-success-of-tesla-big-battery-63917/ has an interesting comment on how effective Tesla's big battery has been in Australia; the electricity market in Australia has been pretty non-functional, so there may not be so much opportunity in New England:

The Tesla’s big battery in South Australia has already taken a 55 per cent share in the state’s frequency and ancillary services market, and lowered prices in that market by 90 per cent
 

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