Monday, June 26, 2017

Renewable Energy Can Be Reliable

The San Francisco control room of NaturEner, which monitors the output of Montana wind farms and blends it with hydropower to create "firm" power. (Credit: NaturEner) Click to Enlarge.
Morgan Stanley Capital Group Inc., a trader in energy and metals, keeps an office in Vancouver and sells the output from NaturEner's wind farms to anywhere in the West that transmission lines allow.  It packages the energy into whatever form will fetch the best price. Sometimes what the market wants is firm power.

"Firm means that I show up," explained S├ínchez Seara, offering an example.  "I will get you 100 megawatts, and if the wind doesn't blow, I need to figure that out.  I need to deliver what I promised you to deliver."

NaturEner is constantly estimating how much energy its wind turbines will produce two hours from now.  Those projections are often 20 to 30 percent off, too high or too low.  This means that when it enters into its firm contracts for an hour ahead of time, there is a good chance that the wind — and NaturEner — will fall short.

In those cases, Morgan Stanley makes a quick buy from an array of hydroelectric dam operators in Washington state that have something to sell.

A custom blend
In Portland, Ore. — about halfway between NaturEner's California control room and its Vancouver trading floor — is the headquarters of Avangrid Renewables, another company that is blending wind with other power sources to make it a solid block.

The challenge for Avangrid is different.  In the Pacific Northwest it owns 1,400 MW of wind turbines flanking the Columbia River as it wends through the states of Oregon and Washington.  Its partner is the Bonneville Power Administration, the federal agency that controls the majority of hydropower dams in this rainy corner of the country.

Avangrid's supplemental energy source isn't dams, though.  It's natural gas.  In Klamath Falls, Ore., it has a 540-MW co-generation plant and four small peaker plants that can turn on if supplies are tight.

"Bonneville sees a flat product from us.  If we tell them we are delivering 1,000 MW, we are delivering 1,000 MW because we are moving resources around," said Laura Beane, Avangrid's CEO.

Both Avangrid and NaturEner say that there's one main reason it makes sense for them to turn wind power into firm power:  They are located in the Pacific Northwest, one of the most Balkanized areas on the continent when it comes to sharing electricity.

Most of the country is served by a central system operator, such as California's ISO, the Midwest Independent System Operator, or the PJM Interconnection, which coordinates a huge swath of the Mid-Atlantic region.  They are blenders, taking inputs from a constellation of generators and dispatching them to users.
[BPA] is a microcosm for what those larger system operators have claimed, in response to the Trump administration's criticism that intermittent renewable energy undermines baseload. They have said that renewables, even a lot of them, can be reliable as long as they are carefully coordinated, like in the control rooms of NaturEner and Avangrid.

"If you can make it work there," said Michael Goggin, the research director at the American Wind Energy Association, "you can make it work anywhere."

Read more at When Wind Is the Firmest Thing

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