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Looking Beyond Pipelines to Address New England's Electricity Needs

Our dramatic seasonal temperature fluctuations here in New England create a unique energy challenge. Most days of the year (i.e. spring, summer, and fall), we have enough pipeline capacity, or space, to meet electricity and heating demand. However, approximately 40 days out of the year natural gas pipeline capacity becomes scarce, and in certain hours, unavailable; and the system relies on storage to maintain sufficient gas supply and delivery to homes, businesses, and electric power plants.

Many people look at the region’s pipeline constraints and assume that the only solution is to build more pipelines. This is a logical reaction, but it overlooks an opportunity to explore multiple solutions in a more economical and holistic way.  Rather than only looking at pipeline solutions, why not broaden the solution conversation by calling forth market competition?

The grid needs to foster participation by all resources

All resources can help ensure reliability during those key hours when pipelines are constrained. By allowing resources, such as batteries, pumped storage, demand response, and LNG, to compete, market forces can be used to fill in gaps, reward resources that are flexible and available to meet peak demand, and ultimately signal to investors when and where right-sized investments are needed.

New England needs “Load Service Assurance” – not “Fuel Security”

Imagine an approach where grid operators first understand pipeline constraints down to an hourly level. Gas generators use gas in highly variable ways throughout the day, and many times, even on the most constrained days, there are hours where pipeline capacity is available.

Next, market participants like batteries, pumped storage, demand response, and LNG compete to fill in the gaps. The result? Efficient pipeline utilization, lower prices for consumers, and potentially a cleaner grid. But to get there, market participants first need to seek this type of approach, and certain market rules may need to change.

The first step is to broaden the conversation.

In the next few weeks, the New England grid operator will release a report that explores many different scenarios and articulates regional challenges with “fuel security.” Market participants will be invited to provide feedback on this study, as well as present potential solutions. Ultimately the only way to cost-effectively solve this problem will be to utilize all tools in our toolbox, on both the supply and the demand side, and we can do this by talking about these solutions together. By focusing on the desired outcome, Load Service Assurance, New England can holistically solve its seasonal energy challenges. EDF looks forward to engaging ISO-NE and others in this more expansive conversation. Read more here.

By Liz Delaney

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Content Discussion

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on October 7, 2017

I didn’t see the obvious solution practiced here: store the gas when it’s cheap and transport capacity is available (in summer?), in deep earth cavities.
Much cheaper than a new long pipeline and more secure as less vulnerable for disasters, terror attacks.

Here in NL we store conditioned gas in deep earth cavities during summer and release it in winter. So our gas conditioning plant is sized on average consumption => cheaper.
In case the conditioning plant explodes or so, we have uninterrupted supply as we open the taps of the stored condition gas stores.

The Germans store enough gas to bridge supply interruptions of many months (as they are for major part of their supply dependent on Putin). In north Germany in deep salt domes (~600m deep), in south Germany in cavities in deep rocks.

Seems to me highly unlikely that new England doesn’t have such possibilities.

It’s amazing that people in new England find those regular supply shortages and interruptions during winter storms acceptable. Resembles India or Pakistan.
Living in NL and for work in Germany, I cannot remember any gas supply interruption. The last electricity supply interruption I got was at the end of the eighties when I lived in The Hague and an under-station blew-up. It took ~2hours before supply was restored.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on October 9, 2017

By allowing resources, such as batteries, pumped storage, demand response, and LNG, to compete, market forces can be used to fill in gaps, reward resources that are flexible and available to meet peak demand, and ultimately signal to investors when and where right-sized investments are needed.

Liz, your implication that batteries, pumped storage, and demand response are sources of energy is absurd. They don’t “compete” with gas at all, but enable the electricity it generates to be stored, wasting anywhere from 10-25% of it in resistance losses, and increasing its emissions profile by a corresponding percentage.

Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant, shut down in 2013, provided a full 70% of Vermont’s electricity without any emissions at all – or pipelines. Vermont was already “beyond pipelines” and now has gone backwards, thanks to the empty promise of renewables in a wind- and solar-deprived state.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on October 9, 2017

The “deep earth cavities” you’re thinking of don’t exist in New England. Gas is seasonally stored at places in the broader northeast (Pennsylvania, I believe), but it still has to be transported via rather long pipelines to the New England states.

New England is one of the few locations in the US where a lot of fuel oil is still burned. That, and a lot of firewood. The efficient thing to do would have been to deploy ground-source heat pumps powered by clean electricity from the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant. Unfortunately, your (anti)environmentalist cousins foreclosed that option.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on October 10, 2017

The reason NE doesn’t have many pipelines is that under a thin layer of top soil there’s solid granite. You can’t just lay pipe in trenches dug with a backhoe. So there’s no digging big caverns either.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on October 10, 2017

Andrew,

I live in Vermont and tried hard to stop Governor Shulman and his scare-mongering 100% RE cronies from closing VY.

VY, 620 MW, had spent $120 million to get a 20-y extension, did get the extension, but was closed anyway, and was producing at 5 c/kWh.

Vermont 100% RE folks rather have wind at about 10 c, and solar at 14 c, both heavily subsidized to the gills. Their costs would be 15 c and 20 c, respectively, without these subsidies.

Willem Post's picture
Willem Post on October 10, 2017

Bob,

You are right.

The ac to dc conversion loss, then the battery charging loss, then the loss while charged, then the battery discharging loss, then the dc to ac conversion loss, altogether at least 15 – 20%.

That means more electricity needs to be generated just to cover that loss.

Also, setting up the battery systems is very expensive and requires a lot of embedded energy. The levelized cost of utility-scale turnkey battery systems is at least 20 c/kWh.

If solar electricity is sent through the battery, that would be 15 c for the subsidized solar in New England, plus 20 c for battery “processing”.

Initially, with little solar and wind, the battery losses would be minor, but with increasing wind and solar, the battery losses would increase at least proportionally.

Folks thinking this is OK is well beyond rational.

A much more economical approach for NE would be to get much more steady, 24/7/365, hydro energy from Canada at about 5-7 c, plus 1 c for transmission.

Hydro-Quebec has 5400 MW of plants already built where the water is spilling over the spillways. No batteries and other expensive measures would be required.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on October 10, 2017

And all it would take is one bad ice storm to take out the HQ supply for days to weeks.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on October 11, 2017

Considering the frequency here, it’s somewhat strange to me that those deep earth cavities more than 100m below the surface wouldn’t exist in a large area as new England.
Is the underground fully surveyed with deep sensing technologies such as ultra-sone vibration equipment?

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on October 11, 2017

Igneous rocks, Bas.  Not sedimentary.  Igneous.  Next to no porosity and no caverns to hold anything.

Hops Gegangen's picture
Hops Gegangen on October 11, 2017

Doing a little research, I find Entergy blamed the shutdown on low gas prices, not “RE folks” and that the Vermont Senate voted against license extension in part due to a tritium leak, not due to the governor’s “scare mongering cronies”

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on October 11, 2017

Tiny amounts of tritium are harmless.  Promoting fear of it IS scare mongering.

Darius Bentvels's picture
Darius Bentvels on October 12, 2017

The deep earth caverns in S. Germany are in rocks.
Normally rocks have a lot of caverns, also at greater depths.

When you look at the geology maps of e.g. Vermont, you see similar structures as those in S.Germany.
So similar caverns must also be there.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on October 12, 2017

What part of “igneous” didn’t you understand, Bas?

You get natural caverns in certain sedimentary rocks.  Soil acids naturally erode limestones and karsts and form caves and sinkholes.  In evaporites, you can solution-mine caverns as part of extracting salt or potash.  Such solution-mined reservoirs are used to store crude oil and other things.

For this to work, you have to have an impervious caprock layer.

There are no sedimentary bedrocks in much of New England.  The topsoil sits directly on granite bedrock.  These old granites are fractured so can carry water, but there are no natural caverns and no caprocks to hold anything you might inject into them.  Try actually listening to a geologist sometime.  You might learn something.

Oh, who am I kidding….