(Graphic courtesy American Gas Association; reproduced with permission)
- Electricity consumption of common appliances: Estimating Appliance and Home Electronic Energy Use, US Department of Energy, August 31, 2012.
- Energy consumption for water heaters [standard 50-gallon models]: ENERGY STAR Residential Water Heaters: Final Criteria Analysis, US Environmental Protection Agency, April 1, 2008.
- Fuel economy for NGV Honda Civic: 2012 Honda Civic Natural Gas Overview, American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 2012.
- Fuel economy for CNG transit buses: Business Case for Compressed Natural Gas in Municipal Fleets, National Renewable Energy Laboratory, June 2010.
- Natural gas consumed in production of nitrogen fertilizer [anhydrous ammonia]: Natural Gas and the U.S. Fertilizer Industry, Harry Vroomen, The Fertilizer Institute, July 15, 2010.
- Nitrogen fertilizer and corn: Fertilizer Use and Price, Table 10-Nitrogen used on corn, rate per fertilized acre receiving nitrogen, selected States, 1964-2010, US Department of Agriculture, Economic Research Service, May 27, 2011.
- Average household fuel use for space heating: 2005 Residential Energy Consumption Survey–Detailed Tables, US Energy Information Administration, January 2009.
- Average heating degree days data: Table 1.9 Heating Degree-Days by Census Division, Selected Years, 1949-2011, Annual Energy Review 2011, US Energy Information Administration, September 2012.
- For more info about heating degree days, see: Degree Days, Energy Explained, US Energy Information Administration, October 21, 2011.
- Average household natural gas consumption: Consumption in Physical Units, Totals and Averages, U.S. Homes (CE2.6), 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey, US Energy Information Administration, October 16, 2012.
- Wholesale natural gas price data: Henry Hub Gulf Coast Natural Gas Spot Price, US Energy Information Administration.
- Other Assumptions: 7.2 MMBtu/MWh average heat rate for electricity generated from natural gas fired combined cycle power plants.
In this episode of Energy 101, Lee Patrick Sullivan takes us behind a truly innovative concept of localized power generation — the microgrid.
This infographic shows how a neighborhood could create a microgrid for its own power by installing solar panels on roofs, small wind turbines, and natural gas generators. If excess electricity is produced, the microgrid can send it to the larger grid, or it can store electricity in batteries for use when the wind is not blowing or the sun is not shining. Power can be drawn from the grid as well.
If an outage occurs on the main grid, the microgrid can island itself off and power the houses, military installations or college dorms by using their own generation resources and battery power stored in a central station.
Whether on land or sea, wind turbines harness the kinetic energy of moving air. This new Energy 101 explains how that wind energy creates electricity.
Since 2010, ACSF has docketed comments in various federal regulatory proceedings to help facilitate the use of reliable, clean power (See Better Rules to Live By, p. 9). This article highlights the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and two sets of regulatory dockets that may shape the grid for years to come: 1) federal environmental rules and 2) interstate electric transmission planning.
Environmental Regulation and the Electric Power Sector
The electric power sector is undergoing significant change. Environmental regulations are prompting the use of cleaner, more efficient power plants. And domestic natural gas production has dramatically increased, providing an abundant, affordable, low-emitting fuel source for power plants. Intermittent renewable energy also is being increasingly deployed.
Over the last year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has finalized two significant power sector rules: the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). The first seeks to reduce power plant pollution that drifts across state lines and impedes the ability of downwind states to meet federal air quality standards. The second addresses toxic emissions of mercury and other “hazardous air pollutants.” Both of these rules have been decades in the making.
Due to the power sector’s significant emissions and relatively costly pollution control equipment, EPA power sector rules are frequently subject to litigation. The Cross-State rule and MATS are both being challenged in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Regardless of how the Court rules, however, at least some of the emission control measures required by these rules are likely to be upheld under the Clean Air Act. Additional EPA regulations, including for coal ash and wastewater, will likely further impact coal-fired power. Bottom line: The electric power sector is becoming increasingly clean, as many older, high-emitting coal plants either retrofit with advanced emission controls or retire.
FERC’s Role in Processing Environmental Compliance Extensions
Some power companies and regulators have raised concerns that coal plant retirements brought about by the Cross- State rule and MATS may leave the grid with insufficient power. In particular, the stringent MATS generally require compliance by 2015. However, EPA can extend the MATS compliance deadline for power plant operators on a case-by-case basis.
On January 20, FERC issued a staff white paper for public comment describing how the agency might advise EPA on extension requests under the MATS that involve closing power plants and the subsequent affect on reliability standards. In response, ACSF filed comments urging a common sense solution: power plant operators should undertake early and transparent planning for plant retirements that meaningfully involves state regulators and other stakeholders. The ACSF comments identified how FERC could act through its statutory authority over electric system reliability to undertake a more proactive approach to reliability issues. The comments identified the importance of FERC working with state regulators and other stakeholders. In a subsequent policy statement, FERC signaled its intention to continue addressing potential reliability issues and to work with states via the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners/ FERC Forum on Reliability and the Environment. FERC also stated that it will continue to review relevant information submitted by other stakeholders.
In its FERC comments, ACSF alsostressed that a large number of existing gas-fired power plants are underutilized. As older coal plants retire, these underutilized gas power plants provide an obvious means of helping to provide replacement power and promote grid reliability.
FERC has also been active with respect to transmission planning and related issues. Notably FERC Order 1000 (issued on July 21, 2011) requires authorities to plan for new facilities both within a region and between regions.
ACSF has been providing input on related issues, including two studies by the Department of Energy on transmission congestion in both 2010 and 2012.
ACSF advised DOE that, given “the low emissions profile and relatively small footprint of natural gas electric generating units, these units are uniquely well-suited for siting closer to sources of electricity demand;” they, therefore, can reduce transmission congestion. Similarly, natural gas located closer to load centers can reduce the need for, costs, and environmental impacts associated with long-distance transmission.
Order 1000 and Public Policy Requirements
Order 1000 also requires transmission needs to be guided by “public policy requirements,” such as the Cross-State rule and MATS. Both renewables and low-emitting gas-fired plants can help achieve the goal of reducing power sector emissions. In particular, natural gas emits no mercury and either little or none of other major pollutants emitted by coal-fired power plants (see Clean Skies Infographic).
Furthermore, natural gas plants can be more flexible than coal-fired power plants, and can ramp generation up and down to provide support to intermittent renewable generation when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining. In doing so, natural gas-fired power helps states to meet their Renewable Portfolio Standards–also “public policy requirements” under order 1000.
In its FERC comments ACSF has also argued that consideration should be given to how capacity markets and compensation for ancillary services can promote the type of flexible gasfired generation.
For background on the multiple fuel sources used by power plants, view Energy 101: Electricity Generation.
On April 13, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a significant standard to limit greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new fossil-fuel fired electric power plants. Power plants are the largest anthropogenic source of GHG emissions in the United States, and coal-fired power plants have particularly high levels of these emissions.
This proposed rule builds on EPA’s proposed regulation of GHG emissions from vehicles, the second largest source of these emissions.
The proposed power plant GHG rule is due to usher in a new era of direct carbon limits for new power plants.
Significantly, the proposed rule bases the GHG emission limit “on the performance of widely used natural gas combined cycle” technology. Thus, natural gas units will literally “set the standard” for fossil fuel units more broadly. To control their inherently higher GHG emissions, new coal-fired power plants would generally have to install carbon capture and storage equipment.
In proposing these power plant GHG standards, EPA recognizes natural gas as a foundation of our nation’s clean energy future. Here are some of EPA’s comments on natural gas in the proposed rulemaking docket:
- “EPA’s proposed standard reflects the ongoing trend in the power sector to build cleaner plants, including new, clean-burning, efficient natural gas generation, which is already the technology of choice for new and planned power plants.”
- “Natural gas prices have stabilized over the past few years as new drilling techniques have brought additional supply to the marketplace. As a result, natural gas prices are expected to be competitive for the foreseeable future and utilities are likely to rely heavily on natural gas to meet new demand for electricity generation.”
- “Because this standard is in line with current industry investment patterns, this proposed standard is not expected to have notable costs and is not projected to impact electricity prices or reliability.” In short, EPA emphasizes that lowcost, efficient natural gas units can provide an effective means to address GHG emissions.
Of course, low-emitting power sources, such as renewable energy, also have a key role in reducing power sector emissions. But natural gas generation, which can operate more flexibly than other generation types, also has been broadly recognized as needed to provide load-support to variable intermittent renewal energy sources.
The EPA rulemaking notice excerpted on this page can be found at: http://epa.gov/carbonpollutionstandard/actions.html.
Better Rules to Live By: ACSF Comments on Regulatory Proposals
ACSF frequently comments on regulatory proposals that impact the electric power sector, including proposals by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), the Department of Energy (DOE), and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Our comments include:
- On February 29, 2012, ACSF commented on a staff white paper regarding FERC’s role in processing requests to extend deadlines for compliance with EPA’s stricter limits on mercury and other harmful air emissions, known as the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS). ACSF suggested adjustments to avoid unnecessary power plant reliability problems and ensure early and transparent planning that meaningfully involves state regulators and stakeholders. http://www.cleanskies.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/04/ACSFComments-FERCWhitePaper_on_MATS.pdf
- On March 2, 2011, ACSF commented on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the Integration of Variable Energy Resources. ACSF’s response focused on fairly allocating costs for ancillary grid support services (such as load balancing provided by flexible fast-start natural gas fired generators) needed to accommodate more renewable energy. http://www.cleanskies.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/ACSF_FERC_filing_3_2_2011.pdf
- On August 4, 2011, ACSF supported EPA’s proposed MATS rule. The Foundation also urged the EPA to document how the increased use of natural gas could reduce the power sector’s emissions of mercury and other harmful pollutants covered by this rule. http://www.cleanskies.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/EPA-8_4_2011-filing-re-MACT.pdf
- On October 1, 2010 ACSF filed comments on EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, in particular noting that EPA’s proposed emission-based allocation method unduly favored high-polluting units. EPA recognized this critique and subsequently changed the allocation method. http://www.cleanskies.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/acsf_comments_CATR_10012010.pdf
- On January 30, 2012, ACSF filed comments on DOE’s forthcoming transmission congestion study and urged DOE to take into account future increases in gas-fired generation. ACSF noted that gas-fired units can be located close to load and, thus, can provide a key means of alleviating transmission constraints. http://1.usa.gov/MBDCqh
- On October 29, 2010, ACSF supported DOE’s adoption of full fuel-cycle measures for benchmarking the energy efficiency of consumer appliances and urged more widespread use of fuel-cycle principles. Taking into account the full fuel cycle helps to provide the public more complete information on greenhouse gas footprints. http://cleanskies.org/pdf/ACSF_Comments_on_Full_Fuel_Cycle_filing_10
ACSF’s complete comments can be found here.
In this episode of Energy 101 host Lacey Lett explains how combined cycle natural gas-fired power plants work.
As America produces more and more natural gas, lots of people are thinking about using clean-burning natural gas to run our cars and trucks. It’s not only likely to cost less but it could cut back our oil imports a whole lot, especially from unfriendly regimes.
How many people does it take to turn on a lightbulb? Turns out that the answer is not as easy as we might think. From generating power to transmitting it over the power grid all the way to your home takes a lot of effort. In this animated introduction we take you deep into the heart of electricity generation.
That’s how much mass transit buses consume.
That’s nearly $1 billion in economic stimulus, gone.
Our air is still dirtier than it needs to be. Much of this pollution comes from old and inefficient power plants, many more than 50 years old. It’s time for them to clean up, switch to cleaner fuels, or shut down.
We don’t need to choose between affordable electricity and healthy air. Not today. Now we have cleaner, cost-effective alternatives right here in the United States.
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NATURAL GAS: A NATURAL PARTNER WITH RENEWABLES
One of the biggest advantages of using natural gas to generate electricity is its ability to be paired with renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar. Because generating power from the sun and wind is limited by weather conditions (when the sun is shining or wind is blowing), power generated from natural gas provides an essential complement to maintain a steady flow of power to end users.
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NATURAL GAS VEHICLES (NGVs): An Economical and Clean Alternative
Natural gas can also be compressed and used to fuel the internal combustion engines used in cars, trucks and buses.
- Reduce carbon monoxide emissions 90%-97%
- Reduce nitrogen oxide emissions 35%-60%
- Potentially reduce non-methane hydrocarbon emissions 50%-75%
- Emit fewer toxic and carcinogenic pollutants
- Emit little or no particulate matter
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The scope of North America’s future natural gas supplies is summarized in a 2009 briefing paper
that was commissioned by the Foundation. The report, by Navigant Consulting, draws on that group’s landmark 2008 survey of shale gas production.
A Look Back: Early History
The discovery of natural gas dates back to the ancient Chinese, who dug down thousands of feet and installed bamboo pipes. Many years later, in the seventh century CE, natural gas transported through secret pipes fueled “eternal fires” in temples near the Caspian Sea.
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What is natural gas? Natural gas is a naturally occurring fossil fuel that can be found in various underground rock formations worldwide, formed millions of years ago from the decaying remains of plants and animals. When it is extracted, natural gas is odorless, colorless and tasteless, and is composed mainly of methane.
Methane is clean burning and chemically simple. It has four hydrogen atoms and only one carbon atom, unlike most carbon-rich fuels such as coal, wood and oil. Natural gas is also the only fossil fuel that does not leave a residue when burned and, given its chemical composition, releases far less carbon dioxide compared to other fossil fuels.
In 2008, the Foundation agreed to underwrite a comprehensive new two-year study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) faculty on the role of natural gas in the United States energy future. The study is designed to provide a detailed assessment of the supply of natural gas both in the U.S. and overseas over the mid to longer term, and to examine the potential sources of demand for natural gas during this time frame.
The study is being directed by Dr. Ernest Moniz, Director of the MIT Energy Initiative, and Melanie Kenderdine, Associate Director.
The work of the MIT study team is also overseen by an independent Advisory Board whose members include:
p>ACSF and the National Commission on Energy Policy (NCEP) are co-sponsoring a 16-month Task Force to develop new government and private sector options for managing natgas price volatility.
America’s growing natural gas resource base is now widely recognized. Yet, the development of these resources, especially unconventional shale gas “plays”, will depend on sustained long term demand from end-users at prices that are sufficient to cover upstream production and transport costs. Whether or not this demand will be forthcoming – and at a sufficient price level – is now the subject of considerable debate.
The Foundation, together with the Worldwatch Institute and the UN Foundation, brought natural gas to the center of climate policy discussions in Copenhagen during the landmark UN negotiations for a new global climate change treaty in December 2009. These negotiations are formally known as the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP-15) to the UN Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The initiative will highlight the potential of natural gas to contribute to near- and medium-term emission reductions.
Because natural gas can generate electricity with 50% less CO2 than coal, the expanded use of natural gas could be a “game changer” for U.S. climate action.
However, the cap-and-trade bills now before the Congress do not give priority to increasing the power sector’s use of natural gas. We think that is a mistake and have developed a natgas incentive program that would address this shortcoming.