Duck and Cover

Why it’s called the “Duck Curve” and what it depicts

If you’ve heard the phrase “Duck Curve” in offhand industry circles (the power sector notwithstanding) over the past five years or so, it’s possible you either: laughed, shrugged it off as unimportant, or pondered the meaning without admitting it to co-workers. Or, many of us may have figured out its meaning within seconds by merely looking at a chart.

The “duck” curve illustrates the load shape some grid operators expect to contend with as increasing levels of wind and solar resources create ramping challenges for conventional generation.

The Duck Curve, as depicted by insideenergy.org

The Duck Curve, as depicted by insideenergy.org

“Regardless of how you feel about a particular species of waterfowl, if you are active in the power sector, you likely have an awareness of the “Duck Curve,” says Jim Lazar, senior adviser at the Regulatory Assistance Project, the global, non-profit team of experts focused on the long-term economic and environmental sustainability of the power and natural gas sectors, providing assistance to government officials on a broad range of energy and environmental issues.

The duck curve represents energy output over the course of a single day. The ‘neck’ of the curve occurs around early afternoon hours, when energy is at peak power demand. The concern and challenge that comes with this is effectively making the transition from tame midday hours to active afternoon ones without jeopardizing the efficiency of equipment, people, or money.

Lazar’s input, specially provided in Utility Dive’s newsletter last Wednesday, suggests there are certain strategies that are commonly being employed to even out the Duck Curve. Ten of these are specifically pinpointed, categorized as follows:

  • Targeted Efficiency
  • Peak-Oriented Renewables
  • Manage Water Pumping
  • Control Electric Water Heaters
  • Ice Storage For Commercial A.C.
  • Rate Design
  • Targeted Electric Storage
  • Demand Response
  • Inter-Regional Power Exchange
  • Retire Inflexible Generating Plants

Lazar simplifies this by grouping the strategies into a few primary concepts. The first is that peak-oriented renewable energy is the most valuable; a ‘when, not where’ formula. Secondly is the notion of using water as a battery; storage methods that have been brought up in the agriculture/wastewater sector with incentivized pumping, and in commercials realms as companies begin to measure the effectiveness of ice storage methods. Bottom line: we shouldn’t necessarily fear the mallard, but we certainly ought to respect it.

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