Study finds offshore wind could reduce energy costs in New England

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A new analysis by researchers at North Carolina State University has found that offshore wind power could help reduce wholesale electricity prices on average for six New England states, with a relatively low risk of failure of wind turbines during extreme winter storms.

This article was previously published by North Carolina State University.
By Laura Oleniacz

Although very high wind speeds during winter storms can cause wind turbines to be temporarily out of service, they found that the greatest risk of sudden wind energy losses would be in summer, when wind speeds are lowest. . The results, published in the journal Energycould help New England utilities, policymakers and consumers determine what to expect in terms of price and reliability from the addition of offshore wind power to the region.

“Adding offshore wind to this market reduces wholesale electricity prices overall and reduces emissions fairly consistently,” said Jordan Kern, assistant professor of forest and environmental resources at NC State. “When we consider these bad winter storms, there are rare instances where you lose wind power due to excessively high wind speeds, and even then it doesn’t break the system or cause a shock to the market. A bigger issue we have identified is what to do in the summer when it is very hot and the wind speed is low.

There are plans to add significant additional wind capacity in New England – up to 60% of proposed new electricity generation would come from offshore and onshore wind farms. Already, the region is home to the country’s first large offshore wind farm: a 30-megawatt farm off Rhode Island. And while wind power is expected to be a “saving grace” during extreme winter storms, researchers wanted to determine whether storms could also disrupt power supply and drive up prices, as the turbines would shut down at wind speeds over 55 miles per hour.

“Onshore wind power makes up the bulk of wind power in the United States,” Kern said. “Much of it is located in the center of the country. If you live on the East Coast, however, land is expensive and wind speeds are lower. This is when offshore starts to look good.

In the analysis, researchers used a model of the power grid to simulate the effect of additional wind power on electricity prices in six New England states – Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont – during an extreme cold snap in December 2017 to January 2018. During the storm, demand for electricity and natural gas prices soared due to a “bomb” cyclone .

They found that increasing offshore wind power reduced the severity of price spikes during the cold spell, even though there was a sudden loss of power when the turbines cut out one day due to the storm. cyclonic.

On average, they found that wholesale prices would have fallen by 28.81 megawatts per hour if there had been an additional 4,000 megawatts of offshore wind power online during the storm.

“We were looking to see if there would be any power outages due to this sudden lack of power from offshore wind farms, but we haven’t seen any instances of the system failing in any of the scenarios we’re looking at. evaluated,” said the study’s lead author, Kerem Ziya Akdemir, a graduate student in forestry and environmental resources at NC State. “Most of the time during winter weather events, having wind is a good thing because the wind speeds are high. It was rare for the wind speed to get so high that the wind turbines shut down completely.

They also looked at whether adding 800 or 4,000 megawatts of offshore wind power would impact the price of electricity over 69 years between 1949 and 2018, compared to if there weren’t. additional offshore wind capacity added. They found that the additional wind power reduced the average wholesale price of electricity over the study period.

“We have observed that if we increase offshore wind capacity in the region, wholesale prices will generally be lower,” Akdemir said. “There have been one or two instances where we have seen very, very high prices because excessive wind speeds have caused wind turbines to shut down, resulting in a sudden loss of wind power in the area, but that does not had no very serious consequences for the New England power grid.”

In the scenario with the most wind energy added, prices increased by an average of 89 cents per megawatt hour during outage events when turbines were shut down.

Shut-off events due to excessive wind speeds were also not the cause of the higher prices in the analysis. The most frequent and severe price increases occurred during the summer months, when people used a lot of electricity to cool their homes and wind speeds were low.

“In winter there is a little less demand for electricity than in summer, so there are other power plants that can start up and replace the wind quickly,” Kern said.

The study looked at wholesale electricity prices, and the researchers said the question of how wind generation might impact the cost of electricity to consumers is still open.

“The results overall suggest that adding offshore wind to the system almost all the time will lead to lower market prices and lower emissions,” Kern said. “Whether that means consumers will pay less for electricity is a much trickier question. It is not cheap to build offshore wind farms; you have to build them in the ocean. Consumers might have to pay for it.

The study, “Assessing Risks to the New England Wholesale Electricity Market from Wind Energy Losses During Extreme Winter Storms,” was published online in Energy. The study was co-authored by Jonathan Lamontagne of Tufts University. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science as part of the Multisector Dynamics, Earth, and Environmental Systems Modeling Program Research.


 


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