ORIGINAL REPORTING: The Risks Of NatGas and Renewables In The California Power Mix
Gas plants or renewables? New LBNL study helps utilities compare the risks; A financial tool based on probabilities could make generation investments easier for utilities and IPPs
Herman K. Trabish, June 29, 2017 (Utility Dive)
Editor’s note: The pushback against natural gas in California is gaining momentum as procurement slows and the state’s climate change goals get more ambitious.
With wholesale power prices low and federal power regulations in limbo, choosing the right generation investments has never been trickier — or riskier — for utilities and independent power producers. In 2016, natural gas provided 42% of U.S. power capacity and led all resources with 34% of total generation. Solar, however, led in capacity added with more than 14,700 MW, accounting for 39% of the U.S. total. And wind energy accounted for 30% of the capacity installed since 2012. In 2016 its total installed capacity reached above 82 GW in the U.S. In deciding between renewables and natural gas generation, a utility wants the most economic and reliable choice. A new Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) study offers a new way to compare them, showing that renewable resources have added value as hedges against natural gas price volatility.
The study’s “statistical concept” quantifies the probable risks of each resource and factors them into a levelized cost of energy (LCOE) comparison. Probability of exceedance is commonly used by IPPs and utility planners to describe the uncertainty of annual wind and solar project energy production, the paper reports. It can also be used for natural gas price projections. Statisticians label the mid-range case “P50,” but calculate a probability for all possibilities from P1 to P99. The LBNL study quantifies the risk at each P-level of expected renewables output levels and natural gas prices. The numbers show that higher-than-expected gas prices appear to be riskier to ratepayers than lower-than-expected wind or solar output… click here for more
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