The way we electrify our lives is changing as concerns about climate change and CO2 emissions have come to the forefront. In recent years, the abundance of inexpensive domestic natural gas has driven massive investment in the energy sector to capitalize on the resource as means to generate electricity at a lower cost and with lower emissions than coal.
At the same time, there have been significant technological advances in renewable energy sources as a way to meet the nation’s energy demand without greenhouse gas emissions. In the interim, the nation’s energy demand has increasingly been met by natural gas-fired generation with considerable supplementation from renewable sources, but in a largely uncoordinated way.
A series of studies conducted by the Joint Institute for Strategic Energy Analysis (JISEA) was recently compiled into a report titled Electric Power and Natural Gas Network Operations and Coordination. Though the report covers many aspects of natural gas as an electric generation source, one key takeaway calls for better coordination between gas and renewable supplies in order to mitigate constraints on both sources.
The report notes certain restrictions, such as issues in pipeline transmission in the natural gas power system that lead to insufficient generation requiring curtailment. Such limitations leave demand unmet, thus leaving customers unserved. Additionally, as renewables have entered the grid, their limitations compound problems when combined with natural gas generation.
For example, energy generated from renewables, such as solar and wind power, must be used as it is generated, as battery technology has not advanced to the point where meaningful storages could be developed. As both of these sources provide electricity to customers, coordination between the two is necessary to create the most efficient system and keep the grid powered even when renewables cannot generate power.
The study modeled total unserved load, which is “power generation that can’t be delivered because of gas constraints”, in three scenarios: using the gas power system only, co-simulation between sources, and coordination between gas and renewables. Their models compared unserved loads from 2018 with the predicted unserved load in 2026. They found that in each peak demand month, fewer people were left unserved using coordination than with pure gas power and co-simulation.
As a result, the authors call for major investment into coordination between natural gas and renewables; in essence using renewables as a primary energy source, while supplementing with natural gas when demand cannot be met. When there are issues in gas supply, a coordinated system would recognize these deficiencies and shift to renewables to meet demand.
As the electrical grid changes, all components of the grid must change as well. With change comes major opportunities for a more efficient, greener, and cost-efficient power system as technology continues to advance.