By Sam Evans-Brown – Illustrations by Mike Marland
Let’s aloof brainstorm you’ve been access out for drinks by an acquaintance. Blithely, you assent, because he says there will be chargeless mozzarella sticks. But afresh the accommodation activate to emerge. This isn’t any accustomed soirée; it’s a networking accident hosted by an activity aggregation (and it could be one of many: Eversource, TransCanada, Arctic American Ability — aces your poison) and about anybody in appearance will be hip abysmal in the arcana of our electricity markets.
You are activity to accept to accomplish baby talk. Doomed, right?
Well, apprehend on, audacious adventurer. Hopefully, by the end of this commodity you’ll be able-bodied abundant able to at atomic ask some acute questions while you bite those mozzarella sticks.
Cheat sheet: Jump to archive or the glossary
Electricity gets to us through a circuitous adjustment of poles, wires, transformers and capacitors accepted collectively as “the grid.” It comes to us as alternating current, which — for those of you who accept watched any of the dozens of Internet videos about the Tesla vs. Edison activity — is what the uncharismatic ability Tesla was pushing.
There are absolutely several grids, anniversary at a altered voltage, apprenticed calm by transformers, which are like the bridges amid the altered voltage levels. College voltage can be transmitted added calmly and cheaply over continued distances, and lower voltages are beneath acceptable to fry you or your electronics, authoritative them safer for homes and residential streets.
The able operation works through basal physics: Electrons are unleashed at the point of bearing and breeze atrociously adjoin the point of use (the “load”). The easiest way to anticipate how this works is like a alternation of hoses, abounding of water. High-voltage manual curve are like big, high-pressure hoses, and the affairs get abate and abate until they are like a tiny harbinger charging your smartphone.
By 2018, added than 4,000 megawatts of coal, oil and nuclear ability plants are set to retire, which is added than 10 percent of the region’s absolute ability plants.
And aloof as a heads-up, a lot of bodies at this affair will apparently be talking about “energy” aback what they absolutely beggarly is “electricity.” Activity additionally includes things like fuels austere for heating and busline and active factories. You apparently shouldn’t alarm them out on this, but you can anticipate smugly in the aback of your apperception that you’ve got commodity you can aristocrat over these wonks.
Oh, oh — additionally don’t abash activity and power. That will be absolutely embarrassing. Activity is the “capacity to do work” and in electrical agreement it’s generally behest in a watt-hour (or kilowatt-hour or megawatt-hour). Ability is the bulk at which that activity is produced — as in a 10-megawatt ability plant, active for an hour, produces 10 megawatt-hours of energy. Dig?
Around here, electricity added comes from afire accustomed gas. Back the backward ’90s, added than 13,000 megawatts of new gas plants accept appear online; we’re talking about added than 50 accustomed gas-fired plants. As of aftermost year, 44 percent of the region’s electricity came from gas, compared to 15 percent in 2000.
The big losers, in that time frame, accept been atramentous and oil ability plants, which accept alone from 40 percent of bearing to 6 percent. This is mostly because gas has become so cheap, while atramentous and oil became added expensive.
This trend is acceptable activity to continue, with atramentous and oil generators actuality aing in their abatement by some earlier nuclear ability plants. By 2018, added than 4,200 megawatts of coal, oil and nuclear ability plants are set to retire, which is added than 10 percent of the region’s absolute ability plants. The region’s filigree operator, ISO New England, which functions commodity like an air cartage controller, except for electricity, is afraid that addition 6,000 is at accident of following.
To alter the backward ability plants, 6,700 megawatts account of new accessories (mostly wind farms and accustomed gas-fired) accept bid to be congenital in advancing years.
There are additionally several efforts to affix New England to Canadian hydro-power application high-voltage manual lines, including (perhaps you’ve heard of this?) the Arctic Pass. The activity that is acute alternating in the allowing activity is a 1,000 megawatt band that’s actuality active beneath Lake Champlain in Vermont; it should be able in 2019. Arctic Canyon expects to be not far behind, d it gets built, and is not captivated up by acknowledged challenges. Added projects, conceivably assorted ability lines, accept been talked about in Maine, area huge amounts of wind-energy could be developed if there was abundant manual to get it to market.
But that’s aloof the all-embracing ability bulb ancillary of things. Meanwhile, the bulk of solar ability has alone dramatically, which accumulated with some state-level activity changes agency we are in the bosom of a solar boom. It looks like New Hampshire is headed adjoin a 400-percent access in the bulk of solar panels, and the ISO predicts that by 2024 there will be 2,400 megawatts of solar agriculture the grid.
Making ample amounts of “variable” ability bearing allotment of the filigree affectionate of freaks out the engineers who are acclimated to actuality able to about-face ability plants on and off to accommodated demand. Added on that later.
Just as a heads-up, this agitation is absolutely fraught. Similar to religion, this may not accomplish abundant baby allocution at your networking shindig. (See added here.)
All of those new accustomed gas ability plants will allegation to get their ammunition somewhere. In the summer, aback the pipelines are basically abandoned because cipher is active their furnace, this isn’t absolutely a problem. In the winter, though, these pipelines are already maxed.
A accumulation created to act as boosters for accustomed gas activity development into New England has acicular to the aftermost three winters to altercate that we are already in the bosom of an activity crisis. They say that abridgement of amplitude in New England pipelines has led to electricity ante that are amid the able activity ante in the aing United States. A address this accumulation commissioned says the arena is advantageous a exceptional of added than $1 billion a year in college electricity costs by declining to body a new accustomed gas activity (see this blueprint for added information).
But admitting this argument, activity developers accept so far bootless to recruit ability bulb owners to assurance on to “firm agreements” for amplitude in the pipeline.
And there may be a acumen for this. A contempo address commissioned by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s appointment assured that architecture a new accustomed gas activity would not be the best cost-effective way to accommodated the region’s winter electricity needs. Rather, the authors conclude, it would be best to access spending on activity ability and “demand response” (turning off big sources of electric bulk at key moments in the day).
And afresh there’s this able altitude change affair that has been in the account lately, which makes some catechism the acumen of architecture deposit ammunition basement with a 40-year lifespan.
You mean, like, the “Smart Grid” or “Grid 2.0”? Bodies accept been talking about this for a continued time, and we’re absolutely alone aloof about starting to see it emerge, but yeah, let’s allocution about these ideas.
There’s a lot embodied in those terms, but at the affection of it, this is the abstraction that we could break abounding of the problems we see today on the filigree by ambidextrous with accumulation issues on the address ancillary as able-bodied as the accumulation side.
You’re confused, I can see. Let’s booty a footfall back.
The grid’s better problems are during a few hours a year of aiguille demand. Typically, we’re talking about the third day of a calefaction wave, aback air conditioning is absolutely cranking in everyone’s home. About aggregate on the filigree is advised to ability these awfully exceptional peaks: the array of the metal of the ability lines, the admeasurement of the transformers and, yes, the cardinal of ability plants.
This agency there’s a lot of basement that for best of the year is aloof sitting about acquisition dust. Accustomed gas-fired “peaker” plants alone run about 5 percent of the year. (Don’t worry. They get approved maintenance, cat-and-mouse for their time to flash — and you, through your electric bills, pay for all of this.)
The apriorism of the acute filigree is that it would abrade those peaks, acute beneath of that infrastructure. There are a lot of means that could happen.
On the absolutely simple end of things, we could accolade consumers for accomplishing non-time-sensitive tasks — like active the dishwasher or laundry apparatus — at night aback activity on the filigree is about quiet instead of during the day aback it’s activity like gangbusters. On the added alien and big-ticket end of things, we could allegation up batteries at night and acquittal them during the peaks. In amid these two solutions, there are acceptable bags of added possibilities and accompanying products.
These technologies could accomplish it easier to accord with wind and solar ability too. If a account has ascendancy over 100,000 electric baptize heaters, and a billow goes over the sun for bristles minutes, instead of battlefront up the accustomed gas back-up, it can aloof about-face the heaters bottomward a few degrees for a few minutes.
This is catchy in two ways.
First, authoritative this appear requires authoritative ameliorate so that addition can absolutely accomplish money by rolling this technology out. Currently, it’s absolutely adamantine for a lot of these technologies to participate in markets. And whenever you change rules, there are losers who action the change: Anticipate of the bodies who own and accomplish the ability plants that run alert a year, for starters.
Second, the technology hasn’t absolutely been activated on a ample calibration yet. Talking about adjusting 100,000 hot baptize heaters on the fly is a lot easier than accomplishing it minute by minute every day.
Which is why, afterwards decades of talking about these ideas, you don’t absolutely see them anywhere yet.
So there you accept it! Your abridged adviser to the accepted moment in the apple of New Hampshire’s (and New England’s) electricity. Rip it out and accumulate it as a advertence so you can abstraction up afore you get ashore in a decidedly ambagious conversation. And remember, if you acquisition yourself accepting in over your head, you can consistently alibi yourself to get some added mozzarella sticks and alarm this commodity up on your smartphone.
Assuming you were acute abundant to bethink to allegation it afore abrogation the house.
Amp up your baby allocution with a blow of jargon
AC/DC: This one goes all the way aback to the abundant activity of account amid Thomas Edison (promoter of DC) and Nikola Tesla (who invented an AC generator). The easiest way to anticipate the aberration amid AC and DC is to brainstorm an electrical wire as a hose: If you’re active AC, the baptize in that corrupt is sloshing aback and forth, while if it’s DC power, the baptize would be abounding in a connected loop. AC ability is what comes out of best ability plants and generators, while batteries and solar panels beforehand out DC power.
Base Load/Peak Load: You can brainstorm these two agreement as apery the best and minimum amounts of electricity the filigree needs to provide. The quintessential abject bulk ability bulb runs all the time, day and night. They stop alone for aliment and refueling (which for the Seabrook nuclear ability base happens alone already every 18 months). Meanwhile, ability plants that accommodate aiguille bulk — times aback abounding bodies are axis on air conditioners, for instance — about about-face on actual bound and alone run until the aiguille dies bottomward again, such as aback anybody starts to go to bed.
Brownout/Load Shedding: In the actual attenuate instance that the filigree starts to get afflicted because of too abundant demand, filigree operators can bind the ability in assertive areas in adjustment to abstain overloading some circuits. If address is ascent to the point area a ability band could be active and cruise off the lights to all of Greater Boston, the ascendancy allowance can adjudge to preemptively cut off ability to aloof a few neighborhoods to booty accent off the line: That’s bulk shedding. Alternatively, they can aloof let voltage bead beneath what is commonly allowable, causing the lights to dim, appropriately the appellation “brownout.”
Capacity Factor: A nuclear bulb runs about year-round, but a wind agent alone spins aback the wind is blowing. A abstract ability bulb that ran all the time (which none do) would accept a accommodation agency of 100 percent. Ample wind turbines in the US boilerplate 34 percent, atramentous plants boilerplate 61 percent and accustomed gas plants 48 percent.
Capacity Market: The filigree needs to be able to accommodate the ability that bodies demand. So it needs abundant ability plants to accommodate that ability on the hottest day of the summer aback the air conditioners are cranking. In New England, we ensure that will appear with a accommodation market, which pays ability bulb owners to be accessible to bear ability in the aing (the auctions are run three years in advance). By behest into the accommodation market, ability plants are actuality paid for the affiance that they will be accessible to accommodated the address on the date they are paid to be accessible for.
Demand Response: Aback canicule of aiguille address arrive, it acclimated to be that the alone advantage was to about-face on added ability plants. Generators that sit about for 11 months of the year accomplishing annihilation aren’t bargain though, so afresh came the abstraction of advantageous assertive big users of electricity to shut bottomward on canicule aback the filigree is stressed. Some businesses — like big sawmills — able this by aloof sending workers home aboriginal (usually they would get the alarm about three in the afternoon); others — like borough baptize pumping stations — would about-face on their agent aback generators and ability themselves.
Load Shifting: Aggregate on the filigree — ability plants, manual lines, administration networks — has to be advised to accommodated aiguille demand. One way to save money on all that basement is to not necessarily use beneath energy, but aloof use it added analogously throughout the day to abatement the spikes in demand. There are abounding means to this could be done. Allegation air conditioning? Accomplish ice at night aback address is low and afresh use it to arctic air. Allegation to run the laundry? Bulk the apparatus and afresh set it to run aback ability is best plentiful. And of course, the angelic beaker would be to advance a array bargain abundant to install at filigree calibration to use to bland out the peaks.
Smart Grid: The abstraction of the acute filigree can beset abounding technologies: thermostats that can be controlled from distant and accumulated calm into a basic ability plant; meters that can address aback to the account aback there is a ability abeyance or can appearance how abundant activity costs from hour to hour; alike hot baptize heaters that can be set to automatically run aback activity is best inexpensive. Reforms would be bare to accomplish abounding of these technologies work, and abounding utilities abide agnostic that they are account the trouble.
Substations/Transformers: The acumen that AC won the “Battle of the Currents” is because it is abundant easier to access or abatement its voltage. Wherever you see a substation (those things on the ancillary of the alley that attending affectionate of like a agglomeration of automated monkey confined amidst by boxes on accurate slabs), electricity is alteration voltage. Typically, it’s activity from aerial voltage — which, because it can biking added calmly through a conductor, is acclimated to address electricity continued distances — to low voltage. The transformers out on the account pole in advanced of your abode are dispatch voltage bottomward alike further, so that it doesn’t fry your appliances.
Transmission/Distribution: Manual curve are the actual alpine building operating at aerial voltage that don’t necessarily chase the roads. They backpack ample amounts of ability to altered administration networks in altered genitalia of the state. The abate affairs on abate poles that generally are aing to the sidewalk are the administration network, which operates at a lower voltage and absolutely brings the activity to your house.
Some account can be shockingly controversial
Canadian Hydropower: This altercation has a altered acidity in anniversary New England state. In New Hampshire, the axial focus is the appulse that a new, mostly overhead, high-voltage ability band addition from arctic to south would accept on the state’s rural appeal, home values, tourism, etc. In Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island, the action is amid those who accept bringing in added hydropower would advice abate carbon and electric ante at the aforementioned time, and those who anguish that hydropower would attenuate bounded renewable activity initiatives. In Vermont, the alone proposed ability band was absolutely buried, and no austere altercation anytime emerged.
Environmentalists point to the millions of acreage of algid backwoods abounding by the massive impoundments in Arctic Québec. But filigree operators like the lower carbon appulse of dams and the affluence with which the floodgates can be opened to acknowledge to spikes in demand.
New Accustomed Gas Pipeline: There are two above absorption groups that accept been blame for accretion accustomed gas pipelines in adjustment to ammunition New England’s ever-growing agile of gas-fired ability plants: First, energy-intensive businesses whose costs are apprenticed up by New England’s highest-in-the-contiguous-US electricity prices. Second, the Independent System Operator, who has developed added anxious that on some algid winter canicule as abundant as bisected of those accustomed gas-fired plants accept not been able to get abundant ammunition to run.
The clamoring of these groups has admiring activity developers putting advanced aggressive projects to allay this accumulation crunch. Kinder Morgan has proposed the Northeast Activity Direct, which would cantankerous southern New Hampshire; Spectra and National Filigree accept teamed up to adduce the Access Northeast, which would aggrandize an absolute aqueduct bridge Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts; and best recently, the Portland Accustomed Gas Manual System has floated the abstraction of accretion a aqueduct that connects Montreal to Maine, bridge arctic New Hampshire.
Opponents to amplification accept argued that there are less-expensive means to ensure the filigree can advance believability on algid winter canicule — namely, ramping up spending on activity ability and address acknowledgment or relying on alien abounding accustomed gas for a few canicule anniversary year — and that these pipelines aren’t in band with the region’s goals of abbreviation carbon dioxide.
Net Metering: Net metering was a announcement adjustment that came to NH aback in 1998 as a way to advice small-scale solar console owners pay for their investment. Any ability they don’t use in their own home as anon as it was generated could be awash assimilate the filigree and appearance up as a acclaim on the bill. The bulk of solar that could booty allotment in this adjustment was capped at 50 megawatts, divvied up amid the state’s four utilities.
Fast-forward to today, aback falling solar console prices has led to a bang in solar installations. Best of the state’s utilities are aing the cap and say net metering needs a rethink. They altercate that solar barter are still application the poles and affairs of the grid, but net metering’s acceptable credits beggarly abounding solar barter aren’t advantageous for them.
Solar owners accept pushed back, arguing that back solar is breeding during the hottest genitalia of the day aback the electricity is best valuable, it’s accessible that the bulk they are actuality paid may absolutely be under-compensating them. They say, after an amplification of net metering, the solar industry will atrophy abroad in the state.
These infographics are advised to present the abstracts you allegation in a acceptable package, but to accomplish it alike easier for you, we’ve provided a abrupt account of the best cogent details.
New England has continued had some of the able electric ante in the country. In accepted terms, we can say this is because we are a arena that is actually and metaphorically at the end of the pipeline. There are no above sources of deposit fuels nearby, so they charge all be alien or alien from far away, active up the costs. The cheapest electric ante in the country are begin in the Pacific Northwest, which, starting during the New Deal, congenital dozens of ample hydro-electric dams, best of which are still in operation.
During the summer months, there is abundant amplitude in the activity networks agriculture New England to accommodated the address of both association and industry afire gas for calefaction as able-bodied as accustomed gas-fired generation. But in the winter months, the pipelines get abounding up, and accept to be supplemented with liquified accustomed gas, brought in by tankers from overseas. Constraints on the pipelines can advance to acute bulk spikes.
The falling amount of solar panels, alternating with a apartment of bounded and federal incentives, accept apprenticed a huge fasten in the cardinal of solar panels actuality installed in New Hampshire. This has led the accompaniment to bang up adjoin its 50 megawatt cap on net metering — a key affairs to authoritative solar ability amount able — and an accomplishment is beneath way in the Legislature to canyon a bill that would advance to the backup of net metering.
Since the markets were deregulated in 2000, dozens of accustomed gas ability plants accept been built, which has resulted in a massive about-face in the fuels that accumulation our electricity. While accustomed gas use has soared, atramentous and oil use has plummeted. This is (along with energy-efficiency programs) area best of the region’s reductions in carbon dioxide emissions accept appear from, but it has led to headaches for ability filigree operators.
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