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Climate Change Requires a Shift in Energy Production Portfolio

As we continue to examine the intersection of climate change and electric utilities, it is important to evaluate changes that need to be made to the electric energy production portfolio of the US. Today, fossil fuels produce over 60% of the energy used within the US. To mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, fossil fuel use must be significantly reduced and ultimately eliminated. Instead, renewable energy sources must be used for the majority of energy production. This will create a large shift in the dynamics associated with wholesale energy production.


In this article, we examine energy production sources by type, with innovative naming mechanisms that correlate to the amount of energy that each type will be required to be produced. Percentages are reasonable estimates that should allow the US to move away from fossil fuels within the next decade or so. We also examine the impact of each energy production source during periods of peak load and low energy demand.


Energy Production Sources


Electric energy production sources should be classified as “Must Run,” “Stabilizing,” “Load Following,” and “Peaking.” Over the next five years, every regional transmission operator should publicize their estimated need for each energy source by classification. Each energy production facility should provide their targets for infrastructure cost reimbursement and energy delivery reimbursement.


Let’s take a closer look at each energy production source.


Must Run


Must Run energy sources include wind turbine generators and solar panels. These energy sources do not produce greenhouse gases and therefore do not increase the rate of global climate change.


Unfortunately, Must Run production facilities are not available all the time: solar panels produce energy when the sun is shining, wind turbines require the wind to be blowing. These challenges can be mitigated when other sources are included in the mix of energy production. Must Run energy sources should be designed to provide approximately 60% of peak energy production.


Stabilizing


Stabilizing energy sources are nuclear power plants and hydroelectric power plants. Like Must Run sources, these production facilities do not produce greenhouse gases, and therefore have minimal impact on global climate change.


Stabilizing production facilities are foundational elements that act as buffers when upsets occur. They should be designed to provide 20% of peak energy production. There are plenty of these facilities already in existence today; therefore, limited new construction should be needed to meet the 20% goal.


Load Following


Load Following energy sources store energy when the power produced by other production facilities exceeds customer load requirements, similar to rechargeable batteries. Then, when the power produced by other production facilities is less than customer load requirements, Load Following energy sources produce energy. Load following production facilities should be designed to provide 30% of peak energy production.


Peaking


Peaking energy sources are natural gas fired power plants and hydrogen fueled power plants. Both energy production types emit greenhouse gases, which contribute to climate change. Peaking production facilities should be designed to provide 30% of peak energy production. These energy sources should only be used when energy demand exceeds supply, such as during peak load times, and only when Load Following sources are not able to provide enough energy. In the long term, these energy sources should be phased out.


It's important to note that although hydrogen powered energy production facilities have lesser greenhouse gas emissions, the overall cycle efficiency will be less than 20% unless heat recovery systems are used in both the electrolysis cycle and the recombination cycle.


Spring and Fall: Low Load Energy Production


During April, May, September, and October, more temperate months when customers are demanding less energy, the energy production facilities Must Run, Stabilizing, and Load Following will be able to supply customer loads. Figure 1 illustrates a typical day in April. Energy storage facilities will store energy during the day and supply energy during the night. Peaking energy production facilities will be shut down during low load periods, so they are not included in the figure.

Figure 1 shows the typical energy production and storage on an April day from three energy production facilities: Must Run, Stabilizing, and Load Following.


Summer Load Energy Production


During July and August, when demand for energy to power air conditioners is at its peak, the energy production facilities Must Run, Stabilizing, Peaking, and Load Following will be needed to supply customer loads. Figure 2 illustrates a typical day in August. Energy storage facilities will store energy during the day and supply energy during the night. Peaking energy production facilities will be needed to supply energy to air conditioners.

Figure 2 shows the typical energy production and storage on an August day from four energy production facilities: Must Run, Stabilizing, Peaking, and Load Following.


Winter Load Energy Production


During January and February, when demand for heat is highest, the energy production facilities Must Run, Stabilizing, Peaking, and Load Following will be needed to supply customer loads. This is especially true as electrification of homes becomes more widespread, and fewer homes rely on natural gas for heat.


Figure 3 illustrates a typical day in January. Energy storage facilities will store energy during the day and supply energy during the night. Peaking energy production facilities will be needed to supply energy for heating.

Figure 3 shows the typical energy production and storage on a January day from four energy production facilities: Must Run, Stabilizing, Peaking, and Load Following.


Energy Production for a Healthy Planet


Within the next decade, Prescient predicts that Must Run energy production facilities will be well established. When Must Run energy production facilities are able to provide 70% and Load Following production facilities are able to provide 40% of peak energy requirements, Peaking energy production facilities will no longer be needed. Reaching this 70% target for Must Run energy is achievable in the near term.


Developing Load Following energy production facilities will be a challenge. The solution will be to integrate Load Following energy production facilities into substations, creating electric energy warehouses. This creates virtual transmission, which further reduces the impact on the Earth.


To learn more about Prescient’s ideas for a renewable energy future, read our recent articles, including:

Or check out our renewable energy blog collection. Contact us to learn more.


This article was written in collaboration with Prescient's Lead Editor Alyssa Sleva-Horine.

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