The US has relied on so-called baseload electricity since the electric grid was established and began to grow across the country until it served most residences and businesses across the country. But as wind, solar and natural gas and flexible energy providers are able to provide reliable, lower-cost energy than energy from large generators like coal and nuclear plants, it’s time to retire the idea of baseload power, according to a new report commissioned by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
The report, Advancing Past “Baseload” to a Flexible Grid: How Grid Planners and Power Markets Are Better Defining System Needs to Achieve a Cost-Effective and Reliable Supply Mix, was commissioned by NRDC by The Brattle Group in response to Energy Sec. Rick Perry’s call for a 60-day assessment of whether wind and solar energy are undermining power markets and grid reliability. Perry ordered the assessment in April but has delayed it. At the same time organizations like NRDC and renewable energy advocates offered to help inform Department of Energy about the benefits of renewables and clean energy. However, Perry did not respond to their offers.
“The modern supply mix is really a complementary mix of variable resources that provide least-cost energy and environmental attributes, and flexible resources that provide low-cost energy, capacity, and operational flexibility,” said Brattle Principal Judy Chang, a co-author of the report. “Baseload technology can contribute to that mix, but only to the extent its performance attributes are responsive to the market needs. Increasingly, those needs are best met by resources that are flexible enough to avoid baseload operations.”
The new report echoed other recent reports. Last week for instance, the Analysis Group presented a new report on behalf of the American Wind Energy Association (AWEA) that showed that market forces are driving coal and nuclear power plants to retire early.
Similarly, “This report shows that no single technology or fuel type is needed to keep the lights on around-the-clock in US homes and businesses,” said John Moore, director of the Sustainable FERC Project within NRDC. “Policymakers, grid operators, and utilities should focus on defining the electric system’s needs and meeting them in a technology-neutral manner.”
The NRDC report found that baseload energy isn’t clearly defined though it’s usually referred to as power coming from large nuclear and coal-fired power plants. Such power plants were the backbone of the US electric grid for a long time but the Brattle report showed that grid planners are increasingly valuing resource flexibility, energy resources that make it easier to balance energy supply and demand in real time. That’s something many large power plants can’t do because they cannot be easily turned on and off without incurring significant costs, the Brattle Group found.
“The best way to plan to meet our energy needs is to consider all the factors—including costs, emission limits, and operational characteristics—of a variety of resources to identify the optimal mix of technologies to most cost-effectively meet electricity system needs, public policy goals, and customer preferences,” Moore said. “With the electricity landscape rapidly changing, grid operators are increasingly finding that prioritizing flexibility—the ability to ramp up and down and deliver supply or reduce demand quickly—is necessary for the grid to operate reliably and at a lower cost.”Tweet