Thinking About Energy

Submitted by Jerry Halberstadt on Mon, 06/13/2022 - 19:00

Given the urgency of the climate crisis, how can we manage the electrical system to rapidly reduce dependence on burning fossil fuels? Instead of looking only at the dollar cost of energy, we should also measure greenhouse gas emissions and the increase in disease and death from emissions. Life is worth more than money.

We today have two competing energy imperatives:

  • Immediately stop taking fossil fuels out of the ground to save the natural systems that support life.

  • Continue burning fossil fuels for "reliability" so as not to inconvenience anyone.

We need to "think outside the box." We are in a box of cultural and economic assumptions that are failing to guide us to understand the real world.

Two experts from the Brattle Group presented a webinar Understanding Capacity Resource Accreditation for New England’s Clean Energy Transition hosted by the Attorney General in which they gave an overview of the complex process of enticing capital to invest in various types of power generation and storage. The Brattle Group provides consulting services and expert testimony in economics, finance, and regulation to corporations, law firms, and public agencies.

New England, like other regions, currently relies on just-in-time gas-fired generation and will be increasingly relying on intermittent renewables, energy-limited storage, and a variety of demand-side resources. These changes are shifting the timing and nature of shortage risks and the value of various resources for mitigating those risks. New methods are needed to appropriately quantify resource adequacy needs and different resources’ contributions, to signal adequate, cost-effective investment to ensure ongoing reliability, and to enable the region’s clean energy transition.—Capacity Resource Accreditation for New England's Clean Energy Transition

The goals of the accreditation process include:

  • keep near-term economic, money costs low for consumers
  • reduce the chance of a blackout to one-in-ten years
  • keep a lot of power generation in sources that can be managed, i.e, thermal sources that they can turn on when they need to
  • keep things from changing fast: thus give more credit to thermal sources and less to renewables
  • make the "right" kinds of power profitable

But there is no "right" way to do a "wrong" thing.

The Brattle experts, the Independent System Operator for New England (ISO-NE), and the Federal oversight agency, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) all ignore the real problem. None of their monetary and reliability questions will matter in a decade or two if we don’t prevent the planet from heating so much that most, if not all life, will be threatened. Thinking that we will have a livable planet (for us and the rest of nature) by 2050 is madness—if we continue along this path of reliance on fossil fuel, we are doomed.

What are the options? There are many ways to reduce the use of electrical power and ensure reliability. Let us consider our options from a broader perspective.

Suppose we don't demand such a high level of reliability for the energy system on a regional or national level? How could we adapt? How much could local grids using renewables take the load off the regional grid so we could better ride out periods of insufficient regional power? If we improve the electrical grid, will that create additional reliability?

Suppose we are willing to pay a higher energy price AND accept less reliability? What would that look like?

What will things look like if we don't change our assumptions, values, and way of life in a planned shift?

There are solutions to our energy needs but if we cling to our old systems based on burning stuff, we will soon reach a point when it is too late, and in some ways, it is already too late. We need rapidly reduce the burning of fossil fuels and find other ways to produce energy or make do with less energy.

We need to reconsider and change our values and goals in fundamental ways if we are to assure a decent life for all people and avoid destroying the natural systems which support all life. Our values may be the source of the problems. Pogo, the comic strip character created by Walt Kelly, said “We have met the enemy, and he is us.”