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US energy CEOs see future power system that includes renewables, gas and storage

Highlights

Energy storage becoming increasingly important

Mix of solutions will vary by market, region

Las Vegas — The future US power system will likely include a mix a renewable energy, natural gas and energy storage technology, and that mix will probably vary by region, a group of CEOs representing various power generation resources agreed Tuesday.

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The Bonneville Power Administration, which markets wholesale power from 31 federal hydroelectric projects in the Northwest, went from zero to 4,000 MW of wind power in short time which created ramping issues, Laura Beane, president and CEO of Avangrid Renewables, said during a panel discussion at the Platts Global Power Markets Conference in Las Vegas.

"They had a lot of near misses from a reliability perspective so they decided to build backup generation and proposed an integration charge of $12/MWh," Beane said. Offering a less expensive solution, Avangrid stepped in to build a wind control management system, she said.

The company registered last summer as independent balancing authority with the North American Electric Reliability Corporation which helped Avangrid understand what it means to reliably integrate renewables, which is "not for faint of heart," Beane said.

Recognizing the speed at which onshore wind power proliferated across the US, Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of trade group Solar Energy Industries Association, said she thinks changes in solar generation capacity "will be quicker than even the most bullish among us think."

"Right now solar provides about 2.5% of US power generation capacity and it will be 20% by 2030, I think," Hopper said, adding that another 20% could also come from wind by that time.

Cost declines have been a major driver of US renewable energy expansion, but those declines are not limited to renewables, Paul Browning, president and CEO of Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas, pointed out.

"We've reduced the cost of power generation from gas by 12% since 2008, which is the same as onshore wind," Browning said. Having launched a solar plus battery storage company in Pittsburgh which is focused on the Northeast, Browning said he is looking toward a future of renewables with storage capability.

Technology like artificial intelligence offers a big opportunity to better combine and dispatch resources, but the industry is at its infancy in developing software to take advantage of the opportunity, Michael Storch, president and CEO of Enel X North America, said.

A subsidiary of Italy-based Enel, Enel X was formed about 18 months ago to move toward the utility of the future, Storch said. AI can help drive the use of sensors on generation equipment to detect operational issues and it can help identify weather events, he said.

"Optimizing resources that are plugged into the grid needs sophisticated software," Storch said.

MARKET RULES

As solar goes from a tiny percentage of US power generation to a larger share, a lot of market rules designed for a hundred-year-old system need to change, Hopper said. That is big challenge and a place where the wind and solar power industries are working together. "Changing market rules is critical," Hopper said.

From the system balancing perspective, a big challenge is having days when there is little to no wind, "so that's why we need mix of solar, wind, hydro, gas and storage, Beane said.

"The wind could die and storage can step in until another resource can come online," Storch added.

Browning pointed out the importance of duration when it comes to storage solutions. "Duration is the key to storage. Beyond four hours to six to eight hours you need a flow battery and if you need weeks of storage you're talking about hydrogen, so there will be a stack of storage applications," he said.

-- Jared Anderson, jared.anderson@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com