This group brings together the best thinkers on energy and climate. Join us for smart, insightful posts and conversations about where the energy industry is and where it is going.

10,376 Members

Post

What Major Factors Reduced U.S. Power Sector Carbon Emissions 2007-2017?

Total U.S. carbon emissions from fossil fuels consumption peaked in 2007.  The Electric Power Sector has been the largest ‘direct’ contributor to Total U.S. carbon emissions since 1977.  Total 2007-17 U.S. carbon emissions declined by 15%, primarily due to reduced Power Section’s emissions.  What have been the major market, government policy and technology based factors that have enabled reduced Power Sector’s carbon emissions 2007-17?

Brief U.S. Carbon Emissions History – During 1990-2007 Total U.S. carbon emissions increased by 19%.  This was primarily due to growth in U.S. Electric Power and Transportation Sectors’ increased fossil fuels consumptions.  Since 2007, the Power Sector’s carbon emissions have declined by 28%.  Refer to Figure 1.

Data Sources: EIA MER tables 12.1-12.6. Note: carbon emissions are from ‘direct consumption’ of primary fuels.  The Industrial and all other End-use Sectors exclude secondary emissions from the Power Sector electricity purchases-consumption.

Due to a number of factors the consumption of fossil fuels has changed in all End-use Sectors.  Some of the largest overall influences begin with increased U.S. Population and overall Economy growth.  During 1990-2017 the U.S. Population grew from about 250 million up to 326 million (+30%), and the Economy or ‘gross domestic product’ (GDP) grew from almost $9,000 Billion up to $17,000 Billion (+89%; 2009 $ basis).   Even with this very large growth in Population and the Economy, the U.S. mitigated-limited Total carbon emissions growth to less than 2%, 1990-2017.

Since Total U.S. carbon emissions peaked in 2007, the Power Sector has clearly been the largest contributor to reduced emissions over the past 10 years.  Reduced Power Sector carbon emissions resulted from primary fossil fuels ‘mix’ and ‘consumption’ changes.  Refer to Figure 2.

Data Source: EIA MER table 12.6.  Note: ‘Other Sources’ includes all other hydrocarbons (petroleum, heavier gases, etc.), and geothermal, wood and waste.

Coal has and continues to be the largest, but fortunately declining, source of Power Sector carbon emissions.  Similar to Coal displacing liquid Petroleum fuels 50 years ago, Coal is increasingly being displaced by cleaner-low carbon Natural Gas since 2007.  Refer to Figure 3.

Data Source: EIA MER table 7.2bNote: ‘Other Sources’ (from Fig. 2) are not shown in this graph, since they are nearly equal to the Solar Power plot, but are included in the ‘Total Net Power’.

Figure 3 shows that the Power Sector’s total net generation from primary energy supply sources have changed very significantly since 1990.  In 2007, the year that both the Power Sector’s carbon emissions and net generation peaked, the increase in Natural Gas (directly) and renewable Wind & Solar power (indirectly) have increasingly reduced the need for and the net generation from Coal Power Plants.  During 2007-17, Coal Power electricity supplies dropped from 50% of the total Power Sector’s net generation, down to 32%.  Individual power generation energy source changes 2007-17 are more clearly illustrated in Figure 4.

Data Source: EIA MER table 12.6.  Note: ‘Other FF’ includes all other ‘fossil fuels’; petroleum, coke and other gases heavier than ‘Nat. (Natural) Gas’.

Figure 4 shows that the largest reductions in required net power generation occurred in ‘Coal’ and ‘Other FF’ (fossil fuels) Power Plants, and, ‘Total’ reduced net generation from reduced overall End-use Sectors’ retail sales/consumptions.  Most of these higher carbon power net generation reductions were replaced by lower carbon Natural Gas and zero carbon Wind, Solar, and Hydropower.  Fortunately, Nuclear Power has been sustained at almost constant net generation levels 2007-17.

Major Factors That Reduced Power Sector’s Carbon Emissions and Net Generation – Since 2007 a number of market, government policy and technology factors have enabled and facilitated the reduction in Power Sector carbon emissions.  Refer to Figure 5.

Data Source: EIA MER tables 7.2b and 12.6.  Note: NG(Natural gas)-to-Wind &Solar Displacement is another form of ‘energy source switching’.  ‘Geo+non-FF’ = Geothermal + Wood &Waste.

The following list covers the primary factors and influences to Power Sector carbon emission reductions 2007-17:

  1. ‘Coal-to-Natural Gas Fuels Switching’ (47% of total carbon emission reduction) – a number of factors have influenced and resulted in displacing Coal Power Plant’s net generation with Natural Gas Power Plant’s electric supplies. The largest factor has been due to the recent substantially increased U.S. domestic Natural Gas production, resulting major market price decreases.  Natural Gas prices peaked in 2008, then dropped by over 60% 2012-17.  This market based factor in addition to aging and less efficient Coal Power Plants, and, growingly expensive EPA regulations (reduced stack Hg, PM, etc. emissions and the Clean Power Plan), have significantly reduced the economics of operating and sustaining older Coal Power Plants.  The development and growth of economically attractive cleaner/higher efficiency ‘combined cycle’ Natural Gas turbine-generator technologies has also further contributed to increased Coal-to-Natural Gas fuels switching.
  2. Reduced Power Sector Net Generation Demand (20% of total) – this second largest factor to reduced Power Sector carbon emissions is fairly complex and will be covered in more detail in the following Figure 6/backup data.
  3. Natural Gas-to-Wind Power Displacement (17%) – variable Wind Power normally only displaces intermediate/peaking Natural Gas Power generation, which can be readily rapped up and down as Wind Power net generation supplies vary with weather conditions; in order to properly/reliably balance Power Grid’s supply-demand. Most Wind Power Farms have been economically supported by fairly generous Federal and State ‘production tax credits’ (PTC) and ‘investment tax credits’ (ITC).  Most of these credits or power generation subsides have lasted for up to 10 years; from original construction-startup time frames.  These subsidies have made Wind Power generation more economically attractive compared to older/lower efficiency Natural Gas Power Plants.  Another factor has been the development of new-larger Wind turbine generator technologies.  These upgrades have significantly increased average Wind Power generation capacity factors (<30% up to 40%+), and, its directional ability to ultimately displace some future baseload power generation.
  4. Increased Hydropower Generation (7%) – increased Hydropower net generation 2007-17 directly displaced ‘baseload’ Coal Power Plant’s generation; another form of fuels/energy switching. Besides Hydropower’s zero carbon and reduced pollution benefits, the recent-current operating economics appear superior to older Coal Power Plants.
  5. Reduced Petroleum and Other Fossil Fuels (5%) – these generally older Power Plants can be displaced/replaced by most other lower/zero carbon Power Plants. Only a fraction of these ‘Other fossil fueled’ plants/operations can generally be displaced by variable Wind & Solar, since these fossil fuels are often used as ‘backup fuels’ to both baseload Coal and Natural Gas fired steam boiler-generators.  Once again, the most likely motive to displacing these Other fossil fuels is their higher fuel prices and possibly some more costly EPA reduced stack emissions regulations (NOx, SOx, etc.).
  6. Natural Gas-to-Solar Displacement (4%) – variable Solar Power normally displaces intermediate/peaking Natural Gas Power, which can be readily rapped up and down as Solar Power net generation supplies vary with weather conditions and time-of-day. The economic advantage is also generally based on PTC/ITC subsides, and other local State economic incentives.
  7. Added Geothermal and NonFossil Fuels (1%) – these lower carbon power sources can displace a combination of baseload Coal Power and Intermediate Natural Gas and/or Other fossil fuels power generation. Some generation PTC subsidies have been available to make Geothermal and Wood/Waste power generation economically attractive over the years.

Reduction in the Power Sector’s Retail Sales/Demand – The second largest factor that has reduced the Power Sector’s 2007-17 carbon emissions has been ‘reduced demand’ for power supplies.  Reduced demand has been largely due to changes in each U.S. End-use Sectors’ retail power consumption requirements and recent Power Grid improvements.  Refer to Figure 6.

Data Sources: EIA MER tables 7.1, 7.6 and 12.1-12.6.  Note: ‘T&D Losses’ = Transmission and Distribution Power Grids’ system losses between the Power Plant’s supply and final End-use metered consumption.  Reduced demand data also includes distributed Solar PV generation consumed directly within most End-use Sectors.

The following covers the primary factors that have led to reduced Power Sector electricity demands:

  1. Industrial Sector (47% of total retail demand reduction) – despite the increases of this Sector’s GDP over the years, electric power demand has declined by 8% 2007-17. This has been due to a combination of increased efficiency of manufacturing & processing facilities-equipment, lower energy intensive production & manufactured products (such as reduced raw & finished metals and major durable goods; major vehicles & appliances), and, shifting to substantially lower energy intensive-modern computer technologies.  Increased installation of distributed Solar power supplies has also directionally reduced the need for retail power purchases.  However, the largest impacting factor since 1990 has been increased U.S. ‘trade deficits’.   This factor has very significantly constrained required U.S. Industrial Sector power consumption and carbon emissions, which unfortunately has indirectly led to substantial increased U.S. ‘carbon leakage’ to Developing Countries such as China.
  2. Residential Sector (22% of total) – despite the increase in U.S. Population, the combination of increased homes’ insulation, more efficient appliances and smart-home utility control technologies, have been major contributors to reduced per capita and total power demand. Another significant factor has been increased distributed Solar PV installations, due to the ‘net-market’ subsidies, and also, related Commercial leased-owned solar panel installations.
  3. Total (U.S. Power) Grids T&D Losses (up to 16%) – EIA data indicates that during 2007-17 overall End-use Sectors’ and regional Power Grids have apparently made significant improvements that have very significantly reduced Transmission & Distribution systems’ power losses; i.e. increased systems’ efficiency and reduced retail power demand.
  4. Net Power Import Supplies (14%) – during 2007-17 U.S. net power imports increased significantly; primarily from Canada.  Since most of these Canadian net imports come from Hydropower, carbon leakage is relatively insignificant in this case.
  5. Transportation Sector (<1%) – EIA data indicates a very small decrease in power demand 2007-17; despite the growing increase of ‘electric vehicles’ (EV’s) in recent years. This change is relative insignificant, and is generally unrelated to charging EV’s batteries within the Transportation Sector.  EV battery recharging is normally accounted for in the Residential & Commercial Sectors’ power consumption-demands.
  6. Commercial Sector (1%) – Commercial facilities power demands apparently grew at a slightly greater rate than increased building & utility systems efficiency upgrades. This Sector’s increased power demand has also been offset directionally by installed distributed Solar PV power generation, 2007-17.

Future Power Sector Carbon Emissions – The U.S. has made fairly decent progress in reducing its Power Sector’s carbon emissions over the past 10 years.  Future projections are highly uncertain, beginning with recent policy changes made by the Trump Administration: 1) withdrawing from the Paris Climate Agreement (in 2020),  2) repealing the Clean Power Plan, and, 3) plan to ‘Make America Great Again’ by growing the economy.

Growing the U.S. Economy generally includes expanding the Industrial Sector (manufacturing of durable goods) and reducing past-current U.S. trade deficits.  While the recent Administrative action to imposed U.S. import tariffs on Solar PV panels can have mixed results on future expansion of U.S. Solar Power capacity-generation, the growth in the Industrial Sector will very likely reduce U.S. ‘carbon leakage’ from reduced imports and increased domestic manufacturing of many durable goods.  What is often overlooked is the fact that U.S. Manufacturing is significantly more efficient and less carbon intensive than Developed Countries, which reduces overall carbon emissions (or leakage) on a Global basis.

Other uncertainties include clean power technologies developments.  This includes sustaining and possibly growing Advanced Nuclear Power generation, and Industrial-scale Power Storage.  Industrial scale Power Storage is needed to enable variable Solar and Wind Power to eventually and directly displace Coal Baseload Power generation in the future.  Even ‘carbon capture and sequestration’ (CCS) and increased advanced biofuels technologies developments may also become more feasible and economically sustainable in the future.

Will the U.S. eventually comply with past Administration’s pledges, such as the Paris Climate Agreement (reduce U.S. 2005-25 total carbon emissions by 26-28%)?  The answer of course depends on future Administrative and Congressional actions, and, development of truly ‘affordable’ clean power technologies.  Needed government policy actions could include: sustainably supporting domestic cleaner energy production & supplies, possibly extending/increasing future renewable power PTC subsidies, not curtailing existing CAFE standards & increasingly supporting EV’s development-growth, and properly evaluating-ensuring that all future mandated clean energy technologies’ ‘full-lifecycle’ carbon emissions are truly being reduced by at least 50% compared to current fossil fuels energy supplies; in order to truly avoid more hidden global carbon leakage, and little or no reduction in Global carbon emissions.  Other recent carbon leakage examples: Brazil ethanol and Argentina biodiesel imports.

Your thoughts?

John Miller's picture

Thank John for the Post!

Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.

Discussions

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 21, 2018 7:03 pm GMT

Future Power Sector Carbon Emissions – The U.S. has made fairly decent progress in reducing its Power Sector’s carbon emissions over the past 10 years. Future projections are highly uncertain

Not really. As you show in your article, power sector emissions have dropped from 2,425 MMT in 2007 to about 1,800 MMT in 2017. Huge drop in emissions from coal. This is not going to stop – in fact it looks more likely to accelerate.

Coal capacity peaked in 2011 at about 318GW. Since then it has dropped 58GW to hit about 260GW in 2017 – an average of about 10GW per year. See chart below.

In 2018, 5GW of coal plants have already closed in Jan/Feb and an additional 8GW of coal retirements are scheduled. Future retirements are lining up for 2019 and beyond. So over the next 10 years, we should easily average 8-10GW of coal plant closures per year. Total coal capacity will be lower than 150GW.

Coal generation will continue to plummet. Solar and wind generation will grow substantially over the next decade to help fill this gap. NG generation will grow a little. CO2 drop from 2018-2028 will be a substantially higher than the drop from 2007-2017.

No “highly uncertain” for me.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 22, 2018 3:15 pm GMT

Here are the coal retirements for 2018 – over 13 GW for the year. Includes some of the larger coal units and even includes some younger units.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 22, 2018 3:52 pm GMT

Joe, what’s highly uncertain is the rate of reduced Coal Power generation reduction and growth rates of Natural Gas and Renewable power. The DOE EIA projects that Coal Power generation will only decline by about 8% 2017-2050. Re. AEO 2018 Power Sector Coal Power generation. Could it accelerate as you suggest? Yes definitely, but the ‘uncertainty’ is still how and how fast. Until Industrial scale power storage/batteries truly become an affordable and sustainable reality to support variable Wind and Solar Power’s ability to directly displace baseload power generation, the likelihood of Coals Power retirements accelerating from EIA forecasts from lower carbon power sources, other than primarily Natural Gas Power (fuels-switching) is possibly very small.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 22, 2018 3:54 pm GMT

Thanks much for the S/D data.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 22, 2018 4:39 pm GMT

Yes definitely, but the ‘uncertainty’ is still how and how fast.

This is not rocket science. You can easily examine each coal plant’s prospects of surviving over the next 15-20 years. Look at it’s age, size, CF, current competition, future competition, etc… and assign a ‘likely to close score”. For example the current average age of existing coal units is 44.

In PA, there will be about 8-10GW of CC NG plants coming online. What does this mean for the remaining coal plants – like Bruce Mansfield – a 2,500 MW monster that is already operating at below 50% CF. It’s gonna close. Soon. Not that hard.

The DOE EIA projects that Coal Power generation will only decline by about 8% 2017-2050.

The EIA only counts coal closures that have been announced in their future “projections”. Not very bright.

Just in the past couple of weeks we have another 2,700 MW of coal closures that the EIA still thinks will be running in 2050. They missed this 1,400 MW one in PA and this 1,300 MW one in WVA.

80-90% of coal in Western US gone by 2030 – replaced by renewables. No additional Natural Gas usage – perhaps a slight decline in NG. Pretty simple.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 22, 2018 4:56 pm GMT

Industrial scale Power Storage is needed to enable variable Solar and Wind Power to eventually and directly displace Coal Baseload Power generation in the future.

John, though a combination of storage and renewable energy already makes it possible to briefly displace small amounts of coal and other sources of dispatchable power, they will replace it only when they are capable of providing reliable electricity continuously and indefinitely. Which of course, is “never”.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 22, 2018 5:12 pm GMT

Agree John, and you’re likely aware the most accurate forecast of U.S. energy, EIA’s Annual Energy Outlook, has become a target of renewables advocacy only because it’s the bearer of bad news – “shoot the messenger”.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 22, 2018 5:52 pm GMT

Joe,

A staff of full-time analysts use EIA’s National Energy Modeling System (NEMS) to create predictions for their Annual Energy Outlook which evaluate over 400 variables. With a historical 17% margin of error they’ve been more accurate than any other source.

Either energy analysts at the EIA aren’t “very bright” – or possibly their findings run afoul of your optimism.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 22, 2018 7:45 pm GMT

Bob – you said.

With a historical 17% margin of error they’ve been more accurate than any other source.

The 2009 EIA Outlook prediction for coal generation of 2,097 TWh in 2015 was off by 36%.

The 2015 EIA Outlook prediction for coal generation of 1,670 TWh in 2020 will be off by more than 33%.

The 2015 EIA Outlook prediction for coal generation of 1,674 TWh in 2030 will be off more than 50%.

The 2018 EIA Outlook prediction for coal generation of 1,196 TWh in 2030 will be off more than 30%.

This prediction is particularly pathetic as coal generation for 2017 will end up near 1,200 TWh. So they are predicting no drop in coal generation from 2017-2030. Yet there will probably be at least 100GW of coal capacity shutting down between 2017 and 2030. Huh? Are there any adults in the room when these guys do review meetings?

Finally, the 2018 EIA Outlook prediction of 1,165 TWh of coal generation in 2050 will be off by 99+%.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 22, 2018 10:06 pm GMT

Bob, agreed that adapting variable Wind & Solar Power with sufficient power storage, in order to more controllably-routinely displace baseload power, will be a real challenge. As I am sure you are aware, part of the solution will be modifying the current ‘on-demand’ power systems’ supplies/routine operations across the U.S., and within other Countries. One possibly evolving solution is some combination of smart-consumption technologies (i.e. controllably varying demand based on available supply) and distributed Solar PV with Residential/Commercial backup batteries. While this solution is definitely feasible, the significant costs and time required to significantly expand this source of distributed power may take a while.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 22, 2018 10:35 pm GMT

Bob, unfortunately this is how politics has evolved over the years. The ‘scientific method’ and constructive and accurate debate appears to be processes of the past. As you are probably aware, the EIA developed their ‘National Energy Monitoring System’ (NEMS) model many years ago. Is this model perfect, no. But, it is far more accurate than nearly all other software models developed by many special interests. In my experience, the NEMS model projections are reasonably accurate (90%+) over a 10-year period. The biggest factor that contributes to NEMS projections accuracy is the accuracy of the thousands of variables’ data developed over the years. A classic example is ‘ total U.S. carbon emissions’. Why do you think the Obama Administration and Democratic Congress used 2005 as the basis for carbon related legislation and international agreements (Paris Agreement) for future U.S. carbon emission reductions goals/targets? This fact is based on available data in the late 2000’s, the year (2005) determined to be when U.S. emissions had maxed out. Since then, updated/more correct data has shifted maximum U.S. carbon emissions results from 2005 to 2007. This is the reality in today’s world where it takes time to most accurately define all the data required to calculate very complex systems results; i.e. total U.S. carbon emissions from consumption of all fossil and related fuels.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 23, 2018 12:46 am GMT

No problem – here is the coal backlog for shutdowns – 2019 and after.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 23, 2018 5:17 am GMT

Growth in natural gas-fired generation capacity is expected to continue over the next several years, as 18.7 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity comes online between 2016 and 2018.

Coal is being replaced by natural gas. Not “renewables”, Joe – more fossil fuel. The average lifespan of gas plants is 44 years – and those were ones built at least 44 years ago. Amazing!

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 23, 2018 6:36 am GMT

John, since demand is at a customer’s discretion, there are only two ways a supplier can limit demand for a product to match supply: 1) Raising its price, or 2) Lowering its value. Both are unsuitable for the provider of an essential product when that provider is a monopoly – there are no other options.

Yet in California, that is exactly what CAISO is doing to accomodate utilities at their customers’ expense. They’re either 1) Charging more during the most convenient times to use electricity (raising its price), or 2) Using “smart-consumption” technologies to remotely limit a customer’s consumption, or even turn it off (lowering its value).

It wasn’t that long ago when utilities had the responsibility for meeting demand, and the price of overbuilding generation was a burden spread among all customers. But in recent years egalitarianism has been replaced by opportunism – a situation which won’t be improving anytime soon. In It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration is Doing To America, David Johnston describes how a FERC hand-picked by Trump has already manipulated markets to set the stage for utility price gouging on an unprecedented scale.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 23, 2018 2:40 pm GMT

While certainly not “renewable” natural gas carbon emissions are about half that of coal. So there is that benefit.

greggerritt greggerritt's picture
greggerritt greggerritt on Feb 23, 2018 4:26 pm GMT

The reduction in emissions needs to speed up by a lot. None of what you’re talking about will get us to zero emissions by 2035, and allow us to miss the worst effects of climate change. We need to start using less of everything, maybe starting by shutting down the military bases used to protect the oil supplies, since they waste huge amounts of oil.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 23, 2018 4:28 pm GMT

Bob,
I agree – NG definitely replaces coal. Like I said in an earlier comment the Bruce Mansfield coal plant in PA will likely announce its closure over the next few years as more NG comes online in PA.

Now if only that “staff of full-time analysts” in charge of EIA Outlook understood this. They can’t seem to actually model future coal retirements. They only “see” a coal plant retiring once the announcement has been made.

EIA has all those old coal plants magically stop retiring in the near future. Those announcements of anther coal plant retiring that you see every month. They are gonna stop.

About 1,200 TWh of coal generation currently – 40-60TWh of new solar/wind per year. The math is easy.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 23, 2018 6:29 pm GMT

Not good enough, Gerry. Extending dependence on fossil fuel is a death sentence for biodiversity – in the near term, everything living in both low and high latitudes; in the ocean, coral and plankton now, followed by sea life above it in the food chain. And ultimately, all of humanity.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 23, 2018 7:14 pm GMT

If I’m right, some help for this is coming in the near future from a direction nobody expects.  But I’ve done the numbers, and unless I am horribly mistaken this thing looks close to inevitable.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 23, 2018 8:26 pm GMT

Greg, “using less of everything” has historically been the solution in Developing and most Developed Countries, but based on increased energy and production ‘ efficiencies’ ’, not just forcing reduced demands or limiting supplies. The future challenge will possibly be the population growths in Developing Countries (continued increased birth rates) and in Developed Countries (largely from increased immigration). Immigration into Developed Countries, of course, leads to increased standards-of-living of all Immigrates and associated increased electric power consumption. The real challenge ultimately becomes “will technology developments truly make carbon free standards-of-living feasible/affordable?”. And, “How large of total populations can be actually sustained in essentially carbon free economies and environments at some point in the future?”.

In today’s less-than-safe or unstable living conditions, particularly in the Middle East, Asia and Eastern Europe, arbitrarily shutting down military bases is probably a bit risky to all potentially affected regional populations. A more reasonable solution could be making military’s equipment and operations more efficient, but sustained at reasonably protective and safe levels.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 23, 2018 8:53 pm GMT

Bob, as you may be aware California has a history of ignoring how free markets work and power grids should be managed & reliably operated, by creating regulatory burdens that ultimately penalize Resident Consumers. I lived in California back during the 2000-01 when ‘rolling black outs’ days become chronic caused by State government regulatory actions that led to large and fairly routine power outages throughout large parts of the State. As you point out, the current State Government has possibly recreated this power shortage problem/developing crisis. Yes, the way this situation is heading will possibly make ‘on-demand’ power a supply standard of the past.

California Power Sector’s carbon emissions will definitely decline in the future due to increased renewable power, and, possibly reduced demand during future power outages.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 23, 2018 9:18 pm GMT

Gerry, there are multiple benefits of Natural Gas Power generation besides substantially and ‘directly’ reducing baseload generation carbon emissions. Natural Gas power also enables increasing amounts of variable-renewable Wind and Solar Power, which would be substantially limited without this source of ‘intermediate’ and ‘peaking’ power generation. What most people may not understand is that until Industrial scale power storage (batteries) become a very significant reality, achieving a 50%-80% reduction in Power Sector’s future carbon emissions by mid-century will not be feasible without Natural Gas and likely increased-Advanced Nuclear Power. Another option could also be Coal Power with ‘carbon capture and sequester’ (CCS). These CCS Power Plants unfortunately still appear to be having construction-cost and operational challenges today.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 23, 2018 9:27 pm GMT

California Power Sector’s carbon emissions will definitely decline in the future due to increased renewable power, and, possibly reduced demand during future power outages.

John – sounds like you are saying that CA will be reducing carbon emissions by having power outages. I hope this is sarcasm. Hard to tell.

Below is CAISO data through 2017 as well as CA GHG emissions from Electric Power sector.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 23, 2018 9:36 pm GMT

Joe, one very important factor to consider in projecting future Coal Power Plant shutdowns is not only age, but also how the plants have been maintained and upgraded over the years. Plant’s built 40-50 years ago can still be reasonably economic to sustain/keep on-line due to routine maintenance and upgrades. Over the years most Plant’s equipment (boilers/steam turbines/generators/stack scrubbers/controls/etc.) are routinely maintained and upgraded/replaced as needed to reliably & efficiently produce power, and in full compliance of increasingly restrictive environmental regulations and market demand/returns. It’s the Plants’ that have not been properly or reasonably maintained and upgraded over the years as needed to meet all current and pending/future regulatory & economic requirements, that are being retired/shutdown first.

Yes, if the ‘Clean Power Plan’ is put back in force, Coal Plant shutdowns will likely accelerate & increase, but this factor of course depends on future Administration/Congressional actions.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 23, 2018 10:01 pm GMT

Here’s the problem I think, Bob. I, as much as you, would like to see a rapid reduction in fossil combustion. The issue is, as you’ve noted, timing. Natural gas provides an immediate reduction over coal and is both affordable and available. Next in order of priority iare technologies in near term commercialization, and that’s where batteries combined with intermittent renewables come in. We need relatively short term bets – there is not enough time to wait for extremely long lead time options that may never emerge.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 23, 2018 10:06 pm GMT

I agree but for the idea that advanced nuclear power or CCS will have any significant impact. The latest CCS initiative appears to have all the characteristics of its predecessors, FutureGen and Vision 21. Advanced nuclear has repeatedly shown itself to fall short of expectations, has very little financial audience other than in centrally controlled countries where the station owner is in fact the government, and has already been surpassed by other more palatable and affordable options.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 23, 2018 11:05 pm GMT

John,
Of course age is not the only factor. Never said it was. Although as these plants move into their 50s and 60s – problems and therefore costs obviously increase. Another primary factor is Capacity Factor.

Let’s take the Duke Roxboro coal plant in NC as an example. Hope the image below is clear.

This is 2,462 MW 4-unit coal plant in NC and the ages of the four units are shown. The total potential generation capacity of this plant is 21.6TWh annually and I show the actual generation numbers for the last five years.

What has happened? As North Carolina has moved to NG and added some solar generation the Roxboro plant saw its Capacity Factor drop from 65% in 2012 to 28% in 2017.

Expenses are spread over less revenue and cost per TWh rises. Roxboro is rapidly becoming an uneconomic plant. It is almost a certainty that you will be reading this plants’ retirement press release sometime in the next couple of years.

Yet, EIA Outlook has this plant running till 2050. Their model cannot handle assigning a probability that this plant will close and its capacity will go away. This is basic stuff and examples like this exist in every major coal state.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 24, 2018 1:30 am GMT

Being born and raised in CA, its hard to resist regulatory performance puns.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 24, 2018 2:17 am GMT

sounds like you are saying that CA will be reducing carbon emissions by having power outages. I hope this is sarcasm.

You think it’s sarcasm.  We know it’s history, and all too likely to repeat itself.

Engineer- Poet's picture
Engineer- Poet on Feb 24, 2018 2:47 am GMT

Gerry Runte wrote:

While certainly not “renewable” natural gas carbon emissions are about half that of coal. So there is that benefit.

The problem is two-fold:

1.  This benefit is strictly limited.  There is only so far you can go given the intermittency of renewables, and that limit is grossly short of what we need.
2.  Given the required ramp rates of balancing power for wind and PV, combined-cycle plants are not feasible.  Absent new technology, this requires simple-cycle gas turbines at perhaps 38% efficiency to CCGT’s 63% (and even lower at fractional power).  This requires a rather high capacity factor from the renewables just to break even with the efficiency loss from going from CCGT to simple cycle; less than that, and you are burning more fossil fuel with the “renewables” than without them.

Bob and I are telling you that a roadway ending in an un-bridgeable chasm before getting to zero is not a path to a solution.

I, as much as you, would like to see a rapid reduction in fossil combustion. The issue is, as you’ve noted, timing.

The USA was once on track for a reduction of steam coal combustion to near-zero.  That track was blown up by the anti-nuclear movement.

Natural gas provides an immediate reduction over coal and is both affordable and available.

Affordable and available… for now.  With the rapid depletion curves of fracked wells and the push to export as much gas as possible, this cannot last.  Even ignoring the climate impacts natural gas is a one-time gift and when it’s gone, it’s gone.

Next in order of priority iare technologies in near term commercialization, and that’s where batteries combined with intermittent renewables come in.

Batteries are orders of magnitude too expensive to do the job.  Any actual solution will come from elsewhere.

We need relatively short term bets – there is not enough time to wait for extremely long lead time options that may never emerge.

Funny to hear this from somebody who wants to abandon the proven solution (nuclear) because the first 4 plants started in the USA in decades have had predictable teething problems.

KEPCO is building APR-1400s on time and on budget.  Barakah is coming in at a bit over $5/watt, with no cost of intermittency.  The UAE follows the proven success stories of Sweden, France and Ontario.  Get your politics and paranoia out of the way and let the engineers solve the problem already.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 24, 2018 6:59 am GMT

Those CAISO fuel share, avg. power generation figures for Hydro & Nuclear Power look a little suspicious, particularly with the historic Environmentalist constrains on hydropower-dams operations, the recent droughts and nuclear plant shutdowns.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 24, 2018 7:13 am GMT

Agreed, CCS appears to be very economically and technology performance challenged. However, if Advanced Nuclear is not eventually successful as past Nuclear Power has been in some Developed Countries (US, France, etc.), the World will be in a difficult place when natural gas supplies eventually peak. What many tend to overlook is that power storage batteries-developments will still have finite lifespans (10 years?) and as a result variable Wind & Solar will probably be constrained to levels below 50% of total Power Grid generation. Hopefully, alternative power storage options will eventually be developed and become reasonably feasible.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 24, 2018 12:12 pm GMT

I think its a good bet that alternative power storage options will be commercial well before peak natural gas ever occurs. The only additional nuclear happens in those economies where actual costs are opaque.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 24, 2018 4:40 pm GMT

John, though there are many components which led to the California Electricity Crisis of 2000-2001, I’m not sure that much blame can be assigned to state regulatory actions, or lack thereof.

Mostly to blame was Enron’s manipulation of power markets – deliberately shutting down gas plants in California to drive up prices – and though there were many crimes Enron could be credited with, there was no precedent in antitrust law at the time which prevented them from doing it. It was legal, Ken Lay argued, and FERC’s only avenue to stop them would be a lengthy court battle, leaving California to fend for itself.

California hasn’t recreated its power shortage problem as much as it’s lost options to solve it. The California Public Utility Commission has no ability to regulate the actions of international energy megacorps outside its borders, and when 30% of our electricity is imported that’s a problem. Before 2005, the SEC examined books of multistate energy companies. Before 2005, those companies were prohibited from lobbying and making campaign contributions to California politicians. No more, leading to a state regulatory agency rife with corruption which refuses to regulate.

I’m looking forward to rolling blackouts. Most Californians have no concept of the value of reliable grid electricity and will have to learn the hard way – that’s what brings about change. Growing up in the midwest with tornadoes and ice storms we learned what it feels like to be powerless (unsurprisingly, one feels powerless), and with society’s current dependence on connectivity it will only be worse.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 24, 2018 4:53 pm GMT

Of course they look suspicious, John. Referring to “CAISO Daily Reports” is only one of the disingenuous techniques used by renewables advocates to cook the value of intermittent energy – many different values from which to choose!

Here are California Energy Commission numbers:

http://www.energy.ca.gov/almanac/electricity_data/total_system_power.html

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 24, 2018 5:12 pm GMT

Interesting choice of words there John – “a little suspicious”.

Can you explain a little further? Is there a particular year you have have a problem with? Are you saying the hydro and nuclear should be lower?

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 24, 2018 5:36 pm GMT

Spot on Gerry. We will see no new nuclear by 2027 and by then CO2 from power sector will have dropped from current 1,800 MMT to below 1,000 MMT.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Feb 25, 2018 12:04 am GMT

Capacity Factor drop from 65% in 2012 to 28% in 2017.

A drop of that magnitude will certainly impact the economics of operation. But keep in mind what’s behind the CF drop, and what it means when a dispatchable plant operating at a low CF is retired. (Hint: it’s not good news for grid stability and utility rates.)

Very few coal-fired plants are operated in a pure baseload mode (always on). They are typically cycled to help follow the demand curve, but the cycles are scheduled to minimize frequency. A unit will be started up on a rising slope of the demand curve. Once up, it will typically remain up through at least the next trough and rise in the demand curve. It will be shut down on the falling slope of the curve a day or two later. Cycling is staggered among different sets of units to achieve an overall balance. That’s the mode of operation that might yield a 65% CF.

A CF of only 28% implies a different mode of operation. The units are being dispatched for short periods of time, presumably to address single peaks in the demand curve. They’re effectively being used as peaking units. It’s an inefficient use for a coal-fired plant and it increases carbon emissions per kWh generated. But the capital cost of the plant is a sunk investment, and it may be more economical to use an existing unit inefficiently than to shut it down and buy new resources to replace the functionality it was delivering.

When a coal-fired plant that has been operating at a low CF is retired, it will need to be replaced by dispatchable generation from some other source. It might be replaced by new gas-fired generation operating at the same low CF. Or, if it’s replaced by new generation operating at a high CF, then other assets currently operating at high CF will have to drop to low CF to serve the balancing role that the low-CF coal plant was satisfying. TANSTAAFL.

The risk in all this displacement of coal by natural gas is that it’s an artifact of what may be a short term anomaly. There’s a good chance that current NG prices are artificially low. They’re the result of a supply glut from fracked wells in tight shale formations. Such wells are notoriously short-lived, and a constant supply of new wells must be drilled to maintain production. That’s inherently expensive.

At current prices, there are a good number of O&G operations that are walking dead. Revenue from production is insufficient to meet expenses plus debt service. They’re dependent on new investment to make payments on current debt and stave of bankruptcy. That’s Ponzi territory. If gas prices remain low or interest rates rise, these companies — and their investors’ money — are history.

The catch-22 is that such marginal producers can’t afford to back off production to let prices rise. They desperately need all the revenue they can generate.

So what happens when the bubble bursts and this glut of cheap natural gas that’s displacing coal an propping up wind and solar vanishes? NG becomes scarce and expensive, if available at all. Sorry, but IMHO, it could definitely happen. Then it’s biggly crash time — if we haven’t managed to hedge our bets.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 25, 2018 5:35 pm GMT

A CF of only 28% implies a different mode of operation. The units are being dispatched for short periods of time, presumably to address single peaks in the demand curve. They’re effectively being used as peaking units

Actually in most cases these plants become more seasonal – in Roxboro’s case bulk of remaining usage is in Q3 – summer in NC.

It might be replaced by new gas-fired generation operating at the same low CF.

Don’t forget that it might partially be replaced by other coal plants that are also operating at low CF. Only one coal plant in NC is operating at above 50%. Also NC added 2 TWh of solar generation in 2017 – so any increase in NG for Roxboro generation – 6 TWh – would be displaced in 3 years.

If gas prices remain low or interest rates rise, these companies — and their investors’ money — are history.

So what. That’s how the market works. Always more investors and money where they came from.

So what happens when the bubble bursts and this glut of cheap natural gas that’s displacing coal an propping up wind and solar vanishes?

You seem to think NG usage will continue to rise. It’s down 9% in 2017 and yet coal generation also dropped. Total US NG generation may rise above its 2016 peak of 1,378 TWh in coming years but probably not by much. Wind and solar growing at 50 TWh per year can eliminate the remaining 1,200 TWh of coal without increased NG usage.

All that said, if NG prices rise – isn’t that good? That means that any future nuclear becomes more competitive and renewables/storage increase even faster.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 25, 2018 6:30 pm GMT

CAISO – the grid for CA – does not include LADWP and a few other municipal utilities. These utilities do not exactly follow the rest of the state in full mix but the numbers from CEC are pretty close to 2016 CAISO numbers.

CEC vs CAISO

NG 36% vs 33%
Renew 21% vs 25%
Hydro 10% vs 10%
Nuclear 9% vs 8%

So actually the CEC renewable numbers are higher than CAISO. Do you see how that works Bob? So who is being “disingenuous”?

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 25, 2018 7:51 pm GMT

I’m looking forward to rolling blackouts.

I bet you are Bob… you need to get at least one “I told you so” .

Here we are in Feb 2018 – drought is back in CA – and half of DC is shutdown for refueling. So what does yesterday’s CAISO fuel share look like?

Can you see that skinny little area during the day with Thermal written in it? NG down around 1GW and renewables above 13GW at the same time. How does that work?

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 25, 2018 9:21 pm GMT

Suspicious obviously means ‘questionable accuracy’. Since the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant in 2013 and the state government’s plan to shutdown their last Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in 6 years, in addition to the recent years’ near historic droughts/fires, and, the history of CA environmentalists forcing regulators to operate their dams/hydropower plants less-than-most efficiently, I tend to question data published by the CAISO that indicates these zero carbon baseload generation sources-levels (% of total power generation) have actually increased by (12.7% to 21.5% or) 69% 2014-17(?)..

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 25, 2018 9:29 pm GMT

Yes, innovative solutions to displacing Nat. Gas power will possibly be some form of Advanced Nuclear, with power storage such as developed Solar Thermal plants designs. Expansion of Hydropower Pump Storage, the largest existing source of power storage, could also be part of the solution to enabling increased variable Wind & Solar power. The same applies to Geothermal, provided the geographic formations are reasonably/economically available. Who knows, there may be other technologies to store power in some form of chemical conversion batteries someday.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Feb 25, 2018 9:32 pm GMT

Actually in most cases these plants become more seasonal – in Roxboro’s case bulk of remaining usage is in Q3 – summer in NC.

OK, seasonal operation makes sense — at least in regions where there is a significant seasonal component to demand. Can’t do anything about capital costs, but seasonal shutdown, with higher CF at other times, would save a bit on O&M.

Don’t forget that it might partially be replaced by other coal plants that are also operating at low CF.

That’s only true if the low CF is the result of an overcapacity of dispatchable generation. Otherwise, the low CF is inherent in the irregular demand curve for dispatchable generation that results from high penetration of VR resources.

If gas prices remain low or interest rates rise, these companies — and their investors’ money — are history.

So what. That’s how the market works. Always more investors and money where they came from.

We’re not talking here about a few badly managed companies. We’re talking about the major part — some would assert the whole — of the tight shale O&G industry. If things are as bad as the more pessimistic analysts believe, it won’t be any mere “adjustment”.

You seem to think NG usage will continue to rise. It’s down 9% in 2017 and yet coal generation also dropped.

NG usage has only a limited amount to drop before it impacts RE. The inherent variability of wind and solar mean that they can directly supply only around 25% of kWh consumed. That’s not the CF for those resources, though it’s related. It’s the maximum amount from those resources that can be used directly to meet end use demand in a high RE scenario. The rest, if RE penetration ever gets that high, is required to be put into storage, to cover supply when wind and solar aren’t producing.
In the absence of storage at that scale — and it’s a very very large scale compared to what we have now — lulls in RE supply can only be covered by dispatchable generation from stored fuel resources operating at low CF. The amount of gas required for that is less than what we’re currently using, but if supplies should fall below that minimum, we’d be looking at forced blackouts.

John Miller's picture
John Miller on Feb 25, 2018 11:33 pm GMT

Roger, what many folks may not understand is that generally only variable Wind & Solar Power are operated at truly maximum feasible capacity factor (CF) levels over the longer term; annually. For example, due to the very generous $24/MWh U.S. Federal subsidies, the Wind Farm owners are fully motivated to price their power supplies down towards zero to take full advantage of these generous subsidies-revenues whenever the wind is blowing and power grid’s demand is declining.

As you are very aware, intermediate/peaking Natural Gas Power Plants must normally operate well below maximum CF’s in order to maintain safe levels of spare-backup generation capacity to reliably operate connected-associated power grids. Without reasonable/required backup power generation, get ready for the rolling blackouts. If this less than ideal situation becomes a chronic issue regionally, this will definitely make the economics of consumer distributed power generation systems (natural gas or diesel generators, in combination with solar PV and backup batteries) increasingly more attractive to Consumers.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 26, 2018 2:46 am GMT

That’s only true if the low CF is the result of an overcapacity of dispatchable generation.

Almost every state has an overcapacity of dispatchable generation. Look at the Capacity Factor data

53.3% for coal and 55.5% for CC NG in 2016 and there is a bunch more CC coming online. New renewable generation and flat demand means these CFs will stay flat or drop even as coal plants are shut down.

NG usage has only a limited amount to drop before it impacts RE. The inherent variability of wind and solar mean that they can directly supply only around 25% of kWh consumed.

Really? I am surprised that you are also espousing this. CAISO, SPP and ERCOT are all about to blow right past 25% wind/solar over the next couple of years. Might be worth discussing when we get near 50% wind/solar. However, by then there will be a good chunk of storage in the mix.

lulls in RE supply can only be covered by dispatchable generation from stored fuel resources operating at low CF

Yep. This is the scenario today and will continue to be the same in the future.

Look at chart I provided using yesterdays data from CAISO in another comment for an example of NG “filling in the gaps”.

Joe Deely's picture
Joe Deely on Feb 26, 2018 4:35 am GMT

Gotcha, so you are saying there is some sort of environmentalist CA conspiracy and therefore you question how both the nuclear and hydro numbers in the CAISO chart increased from 2014-2017.

Let’s start with nuclear logic:
1) you said – “Since the shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant in 2013″.
Obviously that wouldn’t affect lower nuclear generation from 2014-2017. Right?

2) you then said,”the state government’s plan to shutdown their last Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in 6 years”

A “plan” to shutdown nuclear doesn’t actually lower nuclear generation. You actually have to shut it down.

3) Finally and most importantly, the chart actually doesn’t show any “increase” in nuclear. Output varies yearly with a low of 46.4TWh in 2014 and a high of 51.7 TWh in 2016. Probably due to variations in length of time for refueling. Nuclear generation on CAISO was flat between 2014-2017.

Now let’s move to Hydro. CA was in a drought in 2014 and 2015. Things returned to normal in 2016 and 2017 was the second rainiest year on record. Exactly what the numbers show.

But let’s say you still disagree with the numbers. Then where is your data? Why not provide some alternatives like Bob suggested? (his alternative wasn’t very good but that is beside the point)

You could go to the EIA summary data for hydro and see if it tells a different story vs CAISO. Better yet, you could dive into the EIA generator data for each and every Hydro plant in CA and prove that these CAISO numbers are wrong.

But no, instead you come back with – “I tend to question data published by CAISO”.

It seems to me the data doesn’t match your view of the world.

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 26, 2018 7:22 am GMT

Gerry, the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) exceeded all expectations. Because it could use all of the uranium in fuel for energy (pressurized-water reactors use less than 5%), fuel lasts 20 times as long, making addition of fresh uranium to the onsite fuel cycle necessary every 30 years (instead of every 1.5 years). An IFR plant is fueled once when it’s built then is self-contained. From that point on, no fuel arrives at the plant, no waste leaves.

In the wake of Chernobyl and with support from U.S. oil and coal lobbies, Bill Clinton and John Kerry killed the IFR program in 1994. In 2017, to Kerry’s credit, he admitted he was wrong:

I remember the intensity of the debate. I was at the first Earth Day in 1970, and I was on the other side. But given the challenge we face today, and given the progress of 4th-generation nuclear: go for it. No other alternatives. Zero emissions.

https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=f15rSTy7Spg

Bob Meinetz's picture
Bob Meinetz on Feb 26, 2018 7:30 am GMT

Gerry, there is no economy where anyone – government or private entity – deliberately wastes money. Making the idea someone is hiding “actual costs” of nuclear nothing more than a conspiratorial fantasy.

Gerry Runte's picture
Gerry Runte on Feb 26, 2018 3:14 pm GMT

Bob- The program that was killed in 1994 was for the Experimental Breeder Reactor II. EBR II was an attempt to keep alive the work of the disastrous Clinch River Breeder Reactor program which had been killed in the Reagan administration. CRBR was an incredible waste of resources and EBR II was the same.
The “IFR,” or more properly, “advanced liquid metal cooled reactor,” has been touted since the early 70’s in one form or another and has never come close to achieving its promises. The EBR II decision has been validated by the fact that in the 24 years since, with ongoing research in Japan, Russia, India and China and other countries, breeder reactor technology remains in the domain of “not ready for primetime.”
Quick brief: http://energypost.eu/slow-death-fast-reactors/

Pages

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »