What is power system flexibility?

This video was originally posted by the Northwest Power & Conservation Council. It’s a short 3 minute video featuring Bob Jenks, executive director of the CUB Policy Center, talking about the growing need for flexibility in the region’s power system. A transcript of the video is below.

Can you explain what power system flexibility is?

System flexibility is really a way to use your existing resources both from the supply side and then on the demand side in customer homes and businesses in a manner that’s more efficient.  By doing so we can avoid building large new power plants or other big investments. The more we can be efficient with it—flexibility is a key part of that—it’s really a way to reduce cost in the system.

How does flexibility benefit consumers?

Flexibility benefits consumers first of all by reducing cost on the system. If you can avoid making a big power plant or purchasing a big power plant then you avoid the cost of that. A good example would be ultimately if you could harness the power in people’s homes from a water heater to store energy as an alternative to building one more giant power plant the customer is helping to participate in reducing their own cost. And that’s helpful. It’s empowering. It’s also a way to reduce emissions, carbon emissions, and other pollution going into the atmosphere.  In the end, if we can build a more flexible and more decentralized utility system we save money and reduce pollution.

What will the power system of the future look like?

The power system of the future will be different. It will have tens or hundreds of thousands of solar PV units on rooftops. It will have lots of wind generation coming from not just the Columbia Gorge but from other parts of the region and even parts of the West feeding into a system. And then in order to deal with that, there’s times when the wind isn’t blowing.  For instance I can drive my electric car home and when I plug in my electric car in, rather than saying start charging at 10 PM, I can give over control to the utility so as the wind goes up and down over the course of the night the utility can be using my electric car as a place to help absorb that wind. Therefore I’m helping to integrate that wind at a relatively low cost.

There are lots of other examples. A commercial freezer for example, is a wonderful tool to store energy. You can reduce a commercial freezer down to its coldest point—pre-chill it—at night with that excess wind and then you don’t need to turn it on over the course of the morning rush hour when everyone is getting up and taking showers and making toast. And then in the afternoon or around noon when the sun is really shining, there’s lots of power being produced by the PVs you can again pre-chill that freezer so when the evening rush hour comes and everyone comes home and turns on their appliances and we have that peak load at five or six o’clock when the sun’s not generating as much power you can take those freezers offline and their not absorbing electricity.

So you’re really balancing the system both with generation and with customers making adjustments on the load. There’s really hundreds and hundreds of thousands of points of generation or demand response that utility is combining.

One Third of North Dakota’s Natural Gas is Flared at the Source

According to the Energy Information Administration “about one-third of the natural gas North Dakota has produced in recent years has been flared rather than sold to customers or consumed on-site.” Meaning, that 33% of all of the natural gas in North Dakota is being burnt rather than collected. I’m guessing that 33% is not being calculated into the “efficiency” of burning natural gas, but you can bet it is included in the market price.

Why do they burn the gas?

First, natural gas is made mostly of methane which is a much worse greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Burning it prevents free methane in the atmosphere. North Dakota law also prohibits venting natural gas into the atmosphere without first burning it.

Why don’t they collect it?

The easy answer is that there is not the infrastructure to do so. Over the last 4 years the output of North Dakota’s oil reservoirs has increased 391%. The increase output requires more infrastructure to collect, process, and move all of the associated gas rather than flaring them.

What’s going to happen?

It’s going to take time for us to move to a 100% renewable energy economy. In the meantime, North Dakota’s Industrial Commission has set goals to decrease the volume of flared gas over the next few years. By 2016, the Commission aims to reduce flaring to 15% or less of total volume.

What infrastructure is needed?

Oil and gas producers need bigger, better, and more pipelines, and more importantly they need more land (and permission from public and private landowners) to build those pipelines.

Gas Flares

Guess Who Will Receive a Free Solar System

ELC building

After a careful vetting process and a vote from the neutral volunteer panel a non-profit was chosen as the potential recipient for our solar array donation. Notice we said potential. Today the following press release will go out in the Edmonds news. We are still looking for more people to sign up for solar in order to reach our goal of 50 systems during the Solarzie campaign. Read on and if you are thinking about solar hurry and let us know. It’s not too late to get this system donated!

Edmonds, WA – Edmonds Lutheran Church (ELC) and Annie’s Community Kitchen will receive a donated solar photovoltaic system to generate renewable energy for their facility if enough homes in Edmonds, Lynnwood, and Mountlake Terrace neighborhoods choose to install solar electric systems in the coming months.

The free solar system serves as a community award for participation in Solarize South County, a project of Northwest Sustainable Energy for Economic Development (Northwest SEED) and Snohomish PUD that is designed to accelerate solar energy installations through a group purchase of solar electric systems at a discounted price.  Participants in the project attend a free public workshop to learn how solar energy works in South Snohomish County and to qualify for a free site assessment for their home or small business.

The solar electric system will be donated by A&R Solar, the Solarize South County project’s competitively-selected solar installation team, if 50 project participants sign contracts to install solar.

“Donating a system is our way of saying ‘thanks’ and giving back to a community that supported us, while also raising awareness to the fact that solar works in western Washington,” says Dave Kozin of A&R Solar.  “By setting aside a small portion of the profit from each project, each customer is essentially investing in an asset that will pay dividends to the community down the road.”

ELC and Annie’s Kitchen were selected by the Solarize South County Community Coalition, a volunteer group of individuals who led the award selection process.  The competitive application process took into account the suitability of the facility to generate solar electricity on site and to serve as a public educational tool.