Survey Says…

Study of power sources analyzes grid reliability

A highly anticipated, heavily scrutinized study of the power grid was finally released Wednesday night by the Department of Energy, with surprising results. The study—which endured delays, controversial personnel, and even an unofficial draft leaked to the press a month ago, was widely expected to charge renewable energy sources as a threat to the power grid. Instead, it found cheap natural gas to be the greatest driver of baseload power plant retirements, followed by flat power demand, environmental regulations and the growing penetration of renewables on the grid. Perhaps most notably, the study did not find renewables to be a threat to grid reliability.

The report contained eight recommendations for stakeholders, including directing the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to expedite the study of wholesale market structures, promoting R&D for grid resiliency, reliability, modernization and renewables integration technologies, and examining infrastructure permitting and regulatory processes.

A map of the U.S. electrical grid, showing power sources by size. From the Staff Report to the Secretary on Electricity Markets and Reliability released 8/23/17.—Dept. of Energy image

The 187-page report listed the rise of wind and solar, along with government regulations and stagnant electricity demand, as a secondary causes behind the closures of coal and nuclear plants. Despite these unexpectedly neutral findings, renewable energy did not come out of the report totally unscathed.

Because of some proposed solutions in the study, coal and nuclear advocates are feeling confident, and solar and wind advocates may have cause to denounce it. The study’s policy recommendations include various measures that would likely have the effect of boosting coal and nuclear power. They include requests that the Environmental Protection Agency ease permitting requirements for new investments at coal-fired plants, as well as the Nuclear Regulatory Commission doing the same with regard to safety requirements. Also, it calls for FERC to compensate grid participants that “help keep power reliable”, echoing sentiments made by new FERC chair Neil Chatterjee last week.

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