Externalities of variable and intermittent sources of electric power

The problem:
Adapting to climate change in the U.S. will require, among many other things, additional air conditioning, large-scale water transport (and possibly desalinization), and changes in agricultural fertilizer use (fertilizer is a heavy user of natural gas, as is electric power generation). Climate change may lead to additional stress on the large-scale transmission network needed to support wind and solar power if extreme weather events increase. The variable character of on-shore wind power is poorly matched to air conditioning load. Off-shore wind is a better match, but installations in the U.S. are subject to hurricanes not commonly seen in Europe. Solar power is best matched to late afternoon peak electric loads through storage. Back-up is typically provided with gas turbines.  Conventional compressed air energy (CAES) also uses natural gas.  If gas turbines and CAES are used to match variable and intermittent renewables this need for natural gas is likely to conflict with other uses and have impacts on prices, availability and energy security.

The research:
Apt and colleagues will model the natural gas use of CAES to determine the effects of large-scale deployment on natural gas price and availability, and will model the circumstances under which adiabatic CAES (using no gas) is economically viable for societal and firm level decision makers. We will model:

  1. the conditions under which water availability reductions due to climate change for thermal generation plants can lead to additional pressures on the use of wind and other renewable sources;
  2. the effects on the upper bound of wind and solar incorporation into the grid of relaxing the present tight constraints on AC power frequency stability; and
  3. the extent to which direct use of variable power sources can be optimized to pump and desalinate water, and charge thermal storage systems.

The decision makers:
A123 Systems, American Electric Power (AEP), Bonneville Power Administration (BPA), Caterpillar (CAT), EPRI, International Risk Governance Council (IRGC), NRDC, Ontario Ministry of the Environment, PA PUC, PJM (a regional transmission organization (RTO) that coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia.), SAP Labs LLC, Westinghouse Electric Corporation.