PJM

Marcellus shale gas-drilling site in Pennsylvania.
Photo: Nicholas A. Tonelli.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Prediction is very difficult, especially if it is about the future.” Niels Bohr, the Nobel laurate in Physics, is credited with this line. It is always possible to develop a model that fits the past, but much more difficult to have the same model to correctly forecast the future.

Recent analysis by EIA (Energy Information Agency) and Lazard find that the lowest cost power generation is natural gas, wind and solar. It looks clear, going forward, what to invest in, but before doing so, there may be some lessons to be learnt from the past about making predictions.


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“Resilience and Stability of Ecological Systems” was a paper by the Canadian ecologist C.J. Hollings published in the Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 1973. The concept of resilience was used to describe the persistence of natural systems in face of changes in the ecosystem. The paper has had a major impact within ecology and the concept of resilience has later been expanded to many other areas, including the electric grid.

The 2003 Northeast blackout and extreme weather events like hurricane Katrina (2005), superstorm Sandy (2012), polar vortex (2014), hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria (2017), as well as awareness of new risks, such as physical and cyber-attacks, etc., have contributed to the increased attention to the resilience of the electric grid and ways to strengthen it.

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The U.S. electric industry is undergoing an unprecedented transformation, in terms of magnitude and speed, from a dominance of coal to more natural gas, wind and solar.

Natural gas fired combined cycle generation has among the lowest levelized cost of electricity (LCOE). Between 2006 and 2014 natural gas prices fell by 34 %. Meanwhile the average retail electricity price rose by 17%, which is about the same rate as consumer price index during this period. Only one state, Texas, saw a significant decrease, 13 %, in retail electricity prices.

It triggers the question: Do lower energy costs also mean lower electricity prices for the consumers? The question is straightforward. The answer is more complicated. It is “Yes and No”. Let’s elaborate by looking at available data for the last 10 years.

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In 2015 Tesla sold 25 202 Model S in the USA and an additional 25 164 in the rest of the world.  It made  Model S the bestselling electric car worldwide and  also the number one luxury car in the US. Elon Musk and Tesla have not only put electric cars on the map. They have made it a superior driving experience and a statement for customers to make. Very impressive accomplishments!

Nevertheless, as Sonny Wu, a venture capitalist, says: “The guy who’s  making the $100 000 (electric) car is not changing the world. The guy who is making the $10 000 electric vehicle is changing the world.” So, is the world changing?

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