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M -13 Avoid Power Shortages

Supply Side Actions

M -13 Avoid Power Shortages

Most electric supply shortfalls only last a few minutes or hours. If a longer shortfall can be covered during the first few hours, utilities can often get power from plants that were off line when the shortage began. Therefore, if utilities can increase deliverable electric supplies quicky, and if consumers can reduce demand quickly, supply and demand can balance at less extreme prices than Texas experienced in 2021.

Unlike the isolated ERCOT grid in Texas, Washington’s grid is connected with several states, and parts of Canada and Mexico. Historically, our utilities resisted regional integration over fears that Washington’s inexpensive hydro power would be absorbed by California, ultimately raising rates here. Today, other states can also offer low-cost power, usually from solar or wind plants. Also, since the 2001 California crisis, people have become more aware of the value of regional integration in avoiding prolonged outages and extreme prices.

Washington utilities are already participating in the California ISO project, which improves forecasting and integrates generation management across several states. This makes it possible for participating utilities to acquire least-cost generation from a larger selection of power plants, e.g., making California’s desert afternoon solar power surplus readily available in Washington. Better forecasting, and faster dispatch from remote plants, each make it less likely that a supply shortfall in a particular location will last long enough to cause extreme costs.

If electricity could be stored in inventory, like wheat or aluminum, and dispatched to the grid quickly during an emergency, that would offer another way to buy time.

Washington has an extraordinary ability to store energy, by holding water behind hydro generating dams, or even using off-peak power to pump water back above hydroelectric dams, and then dispatching power from the dams at full capacity when required. We are inherently ahead of most places, not just Texas, due to excellent elevation changes, water availability and historic development of infrastructure at hydroelectric sites.

No other form of generation offers an electric inventory capability. This has been used for decades to minimize and stabilize rates in Washington. Future evaluation of generation resource policy, and work to set utility rates, should formally include consideration of the low cost and high value of hydroelectric storage, as a separate value stream from the energy itself.

Utility-scale batteries, and electric vehicles that can be discharged to the grid, are brand new potential sources of inventory. Utility infrastructure and rate development planning should include value streams that can be derived from storage, not just for outage management, but for other technically complex grid services.

Electric vehicles can be a significant source of stored electricity. Drawing power from EV batteries, say, twice a year, instead of buying batteries for use exclusively by a utility twice a year, could relieve short power shortages while minimizing ratepayer investment in batteries. Utilities and car manufacturers should be required by law to design their systems for voluntary vehicle-to-grid “reverse charging.” Utility rates, meters, cars and charging infrastructure should be set up to make it easy for vehicle owners to sell electricity from vehicles to the grid. Not all owners will want to allow a utility to partially discharge their car, but the value of electricity during peak or crisis hours is so high that many owners are likely to participate if doing so is easy.

Copyright 2022 [or 2023], La Conner Weekly News. Reprinted with permission

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