By 2026, America’s Largest Grid Could Reach 30% Renewable Energy

by Silvio Marcacci

A new study reveals America’s largest grid operator could exponentially increase the amount of solar and wind electricity on its system, while lowering consumer costs and emissions, without negative effects on reliability.

JBS News Renewable Energy. PJM Interconnection footprint image via CleanTechnica
PJM Interconnection footprint image via CleanTechnica

The PJM Renewable Integration Study, prepared for PJM Interconnection by General Electric Energy Consulting, concludes renewables could provide up to 30% of the electricity across PJM’s 13-state footprint by 2026.

While PJM’s report is great news for the rapid power section decarbonization needed to slow climate change and could outline a path forward for other grids, it’s not without any negative outlook — in every modeled scenario, revenue for conventional generation sources like coal, natural gas, nuclear, or hydropower falls.

30% Renewable Energy With No Reliability Concerns

PJM commissioned the study in 2011 to better understand how the grid would be affected if the renewable energy targets of the states within its footprint were achieved or exceeded. Since PJM’s main concern is maintaining reliable and adequate power supplies and all but two of its member states have some form of renewable targets, it’s a valid concern.

GE Energy and a team of other industry experts modeled ten scenarios, ranging from maintaining the current 2% renewables penetration all the way up to obtaining 30% electricity from wind and solar. The study examined expected power demand growth, wind and solar output, required transmission upgrades, emissions, the value of wind and solar versus conventional baseload, and operational costs, among other factors.

JBS News Renewable Energy. Renewables addition potential in PJM. Image via PJM Interconnection
Renewables addition potential in PJM. Image via PJM Interconnection

And the results? In every scenario, PJM’s geographic footprint could accommodate a larger percentage of electricity supply from wind and solar without significant reliability issues, so long as adequate transmission expansion (up to $13.7 billion) happens across the system.

Wider Geographic Area, More Clean Energy

Once again, GE’s analysis shows the benefits of integrating renewables over a large geographic area. “Given the large PJM footprint…the impacts of short-term variability in wind and solar production is greatly reduced by aggregation and geographic diversity.” Put another way, if the sun stops shining or the wind stops blowing in one location, other renewables from across the system can fill the gap.

JBS News Renewable Energy. Renewable energy curtailment in PJM image via PJM Interconnection
Renewable energy curtailment in PJM. Image via PJM Interconnection

In fact, as more and more renewables were added to the PJM system in various modeling scenarios, their efficiency increased while peak demand fell. Curtailment of renewable generators (“turning off” a power system when it could run) was minimal and resulted from localized congestion instead of overall system constraints. Higher renewable generation also shifted consumer demand, with solar “significantly” reducing net demand during peak demand hours.

Fewer Fossil Fuels, Lower Costs, Less Emissions

As additional renewables come online, dirtier forms of energy were replaced. On average, 36% of added renewables displaced coal and 39% displaced natural gas, mainly on a cost basis. In fact, lower coal and natural gas generation occurs under every scenario, as “wind and solar resources are effectively price-takers and therefore replace more expensive generation resources.”

But perhaps most promising of all, every scenario created lower consumer costs across the system while cutting emissions. GE’s analysis found PJM fuel costs, variable operations and maintenance costs, and lower locational marginal prices all decline as the amount of renewables increase, with an average production cost savings of around $63 per megawatt-hour.

JBS News Renewable Energy. Renewables cost savings in PJM image via PJM Interconnection
Renewables cost savings in PJM. Image via PJM Interconnection

At the same time, carbon dioxide emissions fall drastically in every modeled scenario, ranging from a low of 12% all the way up to a high of 41% compared to a business-as-usual scenario where PJM maintains the current 2% renewables mix. The report also notes that a $40 per ton carbon tax, if instituted, would push coal generation down even further than modeled in any scenario.

JBS News Renewable Energy. CO2 emission reductions in PJM. Image via PJM Interconnection
CO2 emissions reductions in PJM. Image via PJM Interconnection

So Is The Future This Bright?

As with any long-term outlook, GE’s analysis is not without potential pitfalls. For instance, many of the PJM scenarios assume offshore wind development in Mid-Atlantic states like Maryland and Virginia along with improvements in renewable forecasting accuracy and growth in energy storage capacity.

But even considering all these challenges, the PJM renewables outlook shows that the transition to a clean energy system isn’t only possible, but it is likely to come with economic and environmental benefits.

This article, America’s Largest Grid System Could Reach 30% Renewable Energy By 2026, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

JBS News Renewable Energy. Silvio MarcacciSilvio Marcacci is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

Wind Energy Blows Michigan Toward 30% Renewables by 2035

by Silvio Marcacci

A new state analysis finds wind energy is blowing Michigan toward its 10% by 2015 renewable portfolio standard (RPS), and could help reach it 30% renewables by 2035 without reliability or affordability concerns.

The report; Readying Michigan to Make Good Energy Decisions: Renewable Energy was released by the governor’s office this week as the state starts to contemplate what its energy future should look like beyond 2015.

Michigan Renewable Portfolio Standard chart via State of Michigan
Michigan Renewable Portfolio Standard chart via State of Michigan

While a ballot initiative to increase Michigan’s RPS to 25% by 2025 was rejected in 2012, this new analysis undercuts many of the arguments used in that election by showing renewable energy costs falling fast while being integrated into the grid.

Wind Energy Gusts Ahead

Michigan’s current RPS was established in 2008 and requires utilities in the state to achieve 10% of electricity sales via renewables through a combination of new generation, renewable energy credits, and energy efficiency measures.

Put simply, the results have been remarkable. The RPS goals are expected to be met by every utility (except for Detroit’s municipal utility, which is winding down service) and has led to 1,400 megawatts (MW) of new renewable energy generation either in operation or under development.

A staggering 94% of this new capacity has been wind energy, with approximately half those turbines owned by independent power producers selling electricity through stable power-purchase agreements, and the state is about to join the elite “gigawatt club” by generating more than a billion watts of electricity from wind power.

Michigan Wind, Affordable And Reliable

But all this green growth has come with an affordable price tag. By the end of 2013, Michigan power consumers will have paid $675 million in renewable energy surcharges, but that rate is falling fast. Surcharge collections are expected to be significantly reduced or even eliminated starting in 2014 because project costs have fallen to the point of being equivalent to fossil fuel generation.

Since the RPS has gone into operation, wind energy has been the lowest-cost source of renewable electricity, falling from over $100/megawatt-hour (MWh) in 2009 to between $50-60/MWh in 2013.

This drop has mainly come from a doubling of wind farm capacity factors due to improved design, from around 20% in 2008 to around 40% today, at the top of national capacity factor averages.

In addition to falling capacity factors, Michigan’s location within two regional grid markets, MISO and PJM Interconnection, has cut costs. The report notes wind integration costs within these large grid areas are lower than costs for projects outside of them, and MISO reports new forecasting technologies help ensure the influx of wind hasn’t caused any reliability problems – in other words, the lights stay on even when the wind doesn’t blow.

Don’t Forget That Green Economic Boost

Adding all this wind energy has also created an economic boom few government officials could have predicted, but one that has helped the state weather the economic downturn. Consumers Energy and DTE Energy, the state’s two largest utilities, report their renewable energy investments have created 2,500 new jobs.

Wind turbine construction image via Shutterstock
Wind turbine construction image via Shutterstock

Indeed, an entire green industry is growing up around Michigan’s RPS. More than 200 companies now operate in the state’s renewable energy supply chain, ranging from manufacturers, suppliers, and service providers, and communities hosting renewable projects have increased revenues from taxes and royalty payments. In fact, wind tourism is even a growing industry!

Turns out creating economic growth can be clean and affordable.

The RPS “has attracted significant investment to the state and driven job growth,” said Steve Frenkel of the Union of Concerned Scientists.

“Meanwhile, renewable energy costs are far lower than originally anticipated and these technologies are performing better than expected.”

Looking Beyond 30% Renewables

Post-2015 RPS negotiations will happen in the state legislature, not at the ballot box where renewable advocates can be outspent by pro-fossil fuel interests, meaning this report’s non-partisan and unbiased analysis could be the starting point for discussion, not slick commercials.

Indeed, Michigan’s next set of targets could aim much higher than just 10% without looking beyond its borders. The report estimates the state has 61 gigawatts of potential renewable energy resources. “From a theoretical technical perspective, it would be possible to meet increased RPS targets of as much as 30% (or perhaps higher) from resources located within the state,” reads the report.

Sounds like a winning argument. After all, what politician wouldn’t want to vote for cleaner air, greener jobs, and more tax revenue?

This article, Wind Energy Blows Michigan Toward 30% Renewables By 2035, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

About the Author

Silvio Marcacci is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate-focused public relations company based in Washington, D.C.

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