Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Reviewing EIA data: Lessons for Wind, Nuclear, and Reduced Production

I’ve been looking outside my little setting in the province in Ontario for data indicating signs of intelligent life in the electricity policy universe.  The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) provides a wealth of data, and forecasts.  I’ve started working with a number of tables/spreadsheets for the period 1990-2009.   The first thing I checked was for the correlation between wind and emissions reduction – but that initiated some queries to uncover the best performing states in terms of reducing emissions, and that led to some others to find out what metrics did relate to reduction of emissions.   Most of the data I formulated compared 2009 to 1997[i].  I chose 1997 because it was the year the Kyoto Protocol was negotiated – the base year for that protocol is 1990, but I’ve learned that was a negotiated date long after it had passed.  After a lot of work, the conclusions from the data are things we knew 25 years ago.  Generating less energy reduces CO2 emissions – as does producing a greater share of electricity with nuclear.

Ontario has great data available on wind generation, pricing, supply and demand totals, available at the IESO site.    I was expecting wind to mean very little, if anything, in terms of emissions performance in the U.S. data, and that was true.  Here’s the top 10 wind capacity states in 2009:
Notably, the top 10 wind states, as a group, trail the US in total, in the reduction of CO2, SO2 and NOX.  That begged the question of what did reduce emissions, which I'll answer in the next paragraph.  The price increase in the states that ramped up wind production is about the same as the increase everywhere else, and the exports[ii]  have jumped more.  The overall capacity factor in the wind states dropped at just about the same rate as the capacity factor for the entire country (all sources generation/all sources capacity).  So there is no indication that wind is particularly expensive, at least in this small group that includes the windiest states, but I also don’t know that any of the states in this list have a FIT (feed-in tariff) program, but instead utilize the far more efficient, and end-consumer friendly, RPSs or RESs (Renewable Portfolio/Energy Standards).  In Ontario the politics and economic structure appear to be escalating the price far higher than necessary.
The top 10 states for CO2 reductions between 1997 and 2009 are:
This shows what we should already have known.  The reason the states with the largest reduction in CO2 emissions are there is primarily due to the reduction in generation.   The states (and District) that are in the top 10 for reduced CO2 emissions are also in the top 10 states for reduced generation with the exception of Vermont, Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.  Connecticut had the largest growth, over 1997, in the share of its generation from nuclear plants, followed by New Jersey, Wisconsin and New York.  The only outlier in the list is therefore Vermont.

Vermont has one nuclear reactor providing over 70% of it’s state generation capacity, and also has substantial hydro contributions.  It also imports heavily, under contract, from Quebec.  The cleanest state is the one that is willing to look beyond its borders for cleaner supply.  While it should be expected that addressing what is seen as a global issue, AGW, it is quite the opposite in today's Ontario.  The increasingly few supporters of the current government continue to suggest Ontario can make a difference through giving outrageous sums of money to emission reduction schemes that have no ability to reduce emissions.

This is a very preliminary review and it doesn’t say much about the individual states.  Broader measurements of emissions intensity, security of supply, and accounting for substituting electrical heating, cooling and cooking with other sources (gas), might provide more insightful conclusions.  What this does indicate is that allocating resources to wind isn’t proving wise from an emissions reduction standpoint.  And if that is withdrawn as a characteristic, it seems unlikely it is wise from any other standpoint.


[i] The data in this post is included in a spreadsheet posted here
[ii] I’ve calculated exports by subtracting the sales in a state from the generation in a state.  This approach does not balance as we know the US imports electricity (from Canada).  I assume that the difference is line loss, but have not yet followed up on the issue.

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