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What is Merit Order ranking?
Merit Order is a ranking system used by electric utilities to choose the most cost-effective electricity to add to the grid at any given moment.
Thanks to the magic of computerization, microprocessors make thousands of decisions per day based on parameters set by the utility company to help the utility to make the highest profits — based on ‘the spread’ — the difference between what they pay energy producers (the wholesale price) and the price they charge their customers (the retail price).
The cheapest electricity on a per kilowatt per hours basis (kW/h) is always solar and wind power which has a merit order ranking of 0 (Merit Order 0) which makes wind and solar the automatic default for utility companies that take every bit of it they can get — and only then do they add power to the grid from the number 1 ranked energy source (Merit Order 1) which in the United States, is coal.
Coal would still be the default energy producer as it was for decades, but because coal has a fuel cost attached to it while solar and wind power don’t, coal ranks lower on the merit order ranking scale. Other electricity generators hold different positions on the merit order ranking scale, with natural gas ‘peaking power plants’ the absolute last choice for utility companies because the per kW/h cost of electricity generated by natural gas gas peaking power plants is so high compared to other energy producers.
The German Merit Order ranking system offers an easy explanation
In the German example, electricity rates are determined hourly and customers are charged the corresponding hourly rate.
For our purposes to explain merit order ranking, this works well. In Germany electricity rates drop by up to 40% during the hours in which solar or wind are active, and this is what Merit Order ranking is all about; Using the cheapest available electricity FIRST — and then filling the gaps with more expensive electrical power generators after all the solar and wind capacity is brought online.
Solar and wind electricity in Germany are rated at Merit Order 0 making them the default for utility companies as they meet their daily demand.
Once all of the available solar and wind capacity is online, only then are, (1) nuclear, (2) coal, and (3) natural gas, ramped up to meet the daily German demand curve.
NOTE: In the U.S. the normal Merit Order rankings are; default (0) for solar and wind, (1) coal, (2) nuclear, (3) hydropower, and (4) natural gas, although this order can change in some parts of the United States, depending which types of energy are produced in a given region.
Still using the German example; The Fraunhofer Institute found – as far back as 2007 – that as a result of the Merit Order ranking system – solar power had reduced the price of electricity on the EPEX exchange by 10 percent on the average, with reductions peaking at up to 40 percent in the early afternoon when the most solar power is generated.
Here’s how the Merit Order works
All available sources of electrical generation are ranked by their marginal costs, from cheapest to most expensive, with the cheapest having the most merit.
The marginal cost is the cost of producing one additional unit of electricity. Electricity sources with a higher fuel cost have a higher marginal cost. If one unit of fuel costs $X, 2 units will cost $X times 2. This ranking is called the order of merit of each source, or the Merit Order.
Using Merit Order to decide means the source with the lowest marginal cost must be used first when there is a need to add more power to the grid – like during sunny afternoon peak hours.
Using the lowest marginal costs first was designed so that cheaper fuels were used first to save consumers money. In the German market, this was nuclear, then coal, then natural gas.
But 2 hours of sunshine cost no more than 1 of sunshine: therefore it has a lower marginal cost than coal – or any source with any fuel cost whatsoever.
So, under the Merit Order ranking of relative marginal costs, devised before there was this much fuel-free energy available on the grid, solar always has the lowest marginal cost during these peaks because two units of solar is no more expensive than one. — Susan Kraemer
It’s as simple as this; With no fuel costs, solar and wind cost less.
Although solar and wind are expensive to construct initially (but not as expensive as large nuclear power plants, large coal power plants, or large hydro-electric dams) there is no fuel price to pay, no weather-related price spikes, fuel transportation costs, fuel supply disruptions, or lack of rainfall to factor into the final electricity price.
As solar panel and wind turbine prices continue to drop thereby encouraging more solar and wind installations, we’ll hear more about Merit Order ranking.
Only solar, wind, hydro-electric and nuclear power have a predictable kW/h price every day of the year. Coal, home heating fuel and natural gas, do not. And that’s everything to energy producers and their customers, the utility companies.
Although energy companies and utilities were slower than consumers to embrace renewable energy, some are now seeing benefit for their business model and henceforth, things will change.
Buckle up, because big changes are coming to the existing utility business model, changes that will benefit energy producers, energy consumers and the environment.
- The Variability of Renewable and Non-renewable energy (JBS News)
On the economics of wind and solar power — by Lion Hirth
“Many hope that wind and solar power will eventually become economically competitive on large scale, leading the way to a global low-carbon economy. Are these hopes justified?”
November’s COP22 climate summit of Marrakech gave climate policy fresh tailwind, after the blow of Donald Trump’s election. Even without a strong global treaty, national climate policies are multiplying — at least a certain type of policies. While the policy that economists often recommend — putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions — remains patchy, as a recent World Bank report shows, subsidies for renewable energy are booming: no fewer than 145 countries support renewables today. Germany’s Energiewende is a prominent, but not the only example: Obama’s Clean Power Plan features renewables as a centerpiece of climate policy, India’s National Solar Mission includes a 100 GW solar power target. In addition China is said to be considering a 200 GW target, and Morocco has announced the building of the largest solar power facility on the planet. Nearly half of all newly added electricity generation capacity was based on renewables. In ten countries, wind and sun deliver more than 10% of electricity consumed. These includes Denmark (43%), Portugal (24%) and Spain (23%).
Many hope that wind and solar power will eventually become economically competitive on large scale, leading the way to a global low-carbon economy. Are these hopes justified?
On the cost side, the economics of renewables look impressive. The costs of wind power have dropped significantly. On average, wind now generates electricity at $70–80 per Megawatt-hour (MWh) globally, as reported by the two international think tanks IRENA and IEA. Ten years ago, a roof-top solar array for a single family home cost more than $50,000 — today it sells for less than $14,000. (America’s LBNL and Germany’s Fraunhofer ISE provide more data.) Germany, which receives less solar radiation than southern Canada, now generates solar power at $90 per MWh. The United Arab Emirates have tendered a solar power station for $58 per MWh and recent auctions in Chile, Peru and South Africa have resulted in even lower prices.
In some countries, wind and solar power are now cost-competitive with coal- and natural gas-fired power plants, even when carbon emissions are not priced. However, cost structures are very country-specific, and cost-competitiveness is not universal. Renewables tend to be cheaper where it is windy or sunny, where investors have access to low-cost finance, where fossil fuels are pricey, and where emissions are priced. In many places, however, coal-fired power plants remain the cheapest option for producing electricity, driving the renaissance of coal. Still, for renewables to have caught up with fossil plants in cost terms represents a huge success for wind and solar power.
Costs are, however, only one side of the competitiveness equation. The other is value. Merely comparing electricity generation costs between different plant types is misleading, as it ignores the fact that the economic value of electricity from different power stations is not the same. This is because on wholesale markets the price of electricity fluctuates from hour to hour (or even minute to minute). Some power plants produce electricity disproportionately at times of high prices (so called “peaking” plants), while others produce constantly at low prices (“base load” plants). This little detail has striking consequences for the economics of wind and solar power. Paul Joskow and Michael Grubb observed this a while ago.
On the value side, the outlook for renewables is…
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter leases a 10-acre site to SolAmerica Energy for the next 25 years to harvest the power of the Sun
Atlanta-based SolAmerica Energy, a leading solar, development and construction firm, launches a 1.3MW solar array on President Carter’s farm in Plains, Georgia.
Former President Jimmy Carter leased a 10-acre site in his hometown to SolAmerica for development of the 1.3 MW solar project, which will provide over 50% of the power needs of the City of Plains.
Carter, an early advocate and leader of the renewable energy movement during his tenure in the White House, commented;
“Rosalynn and I are very pleased to be part of SolAmerica’s exciting solar project in Plains. Distributed, clean energy generation is critical to meeting growing energy needs around the world while fighting the effects of climate change. I am encouraged by the tremendous progress that solar and other clean energy solutions have made in recent years and expect those trends to continue.” — former U.S. President Jimmy Carter
President Carter created the Department of Energy and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and signed the Public Utility Regulatory Act (PURPA), which became catalysts for the advancement of renewable energy in the United States. Carter was also the first president to put solar panels on the White House.
“We are honored to work with President Carter and his family on this project in Plains, as President Carter’s leadership on renewable energy matters is well known and much appreciated in our industry.
Through a 25-year Power Purchase Agreement with Georgia Power, this project will help expand the growth of renewable energy assets in Georgia, while contributing to the overall economy of Plains.”
“There remains a great deal of untapped potential in renewable energy in Georgia and elsewhere in the U.S. We believe distributed solar projects like the Plains project will play a big role in fueling the energy needs of generations to come.” — SolAmerica executive vice president George Mori
SolAmerica developed, engineered and installed the single-axis tracker solar array on Carter’s property. Over the next 25 years, the system is projected to generate over 55 million kilowatt hours of clean energy in Plains.
To contact SolAmerica to find out how they can help your farm, commercial, or residential property to save money on electricity costs and help you to become more energy independent, visit: SolAmericaenergy.com