According to technological and economic analyses by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), using a “full portfolio” of generation and efficiency technologies could dramatically limit the cost of reducing the nation’s carbon output even as demand for electricity grows.
In an update of two 2007 analyses, Prism and MERGE, EPRI asserts that electric utility sector technologies could potentially reduce 2030 CO2 emissions by 41 percent from 2005 levels. Using the full portfolio of technologies, including electro-technologies and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, could increase the potential emissions reduction to 58 percent. In 2007 EPRI projected a 45% percent reduction using the full portfolio.
The updated analyses provide a roadmap and cost-estimate that reflect both new data from the Energy Information Administration, as well as more aggressive emissions reduction goals set forth by the Obama Administration.
The “full portfolio” would include the following key technology capabilities:
- Capturing 90 percent of CO2 emissions from all new coal and natural gas combined cycle plants built after 2020 and retrofitting 60 GW of previously built coal generation with CO2 capture;
- Building 64 GW of new nuclear generation by 2030, with none retired;
- Putting 100 million plug-in hybrid electric vehicles on the road by 2030;
- Adding 135 GW from renewable sources by 2030.
According to EPRI, setting emission reduction targets without making a concomitant investment in efficiency and a diverse portfolio of generation resources could lead to a 210 percent climb in wholesale electricity prices in 2050; with the full portfolio of technologies that increase drops to 80 percent.
While building new nuclear generation and deploying CCS technology are long-term goals, near-term opportunities such as improving existing power plant efficiency and implementing smart grid technology, are vital.
Reducing energy losses in the transmission and distribution process
The EPRI Prism now includes a new category: transmission and distribution efficiency. EPRI estimates that deploying new “smart grid” technology could reduce “line losses” 20 percent by 2030.
Cooperatives, which lead the utility sector in the implementation of automated infrastructure, are already beginning to realize the efficiency benefits of these technologies. Two-way communication at the end of the line, for example, can provide a more accurate and finely-grained picture of demand, enabling the co-op to balance its load better. With new automated meter reading and GPS capabilities, many rural co-ops have been able to reduce their transportation costs substantially.
As cooperatives implementing new AMI systems collaborate and share information, they are finding more and sometimes unexpected benefits. “We are still exploring the full potential of smart grid technologies,” said Mike Pehosh, a former distribution engineer and [current title] at NRECA. “There’s a whole new world of information out there.”
NRECA’s Cooperative Research Network has submitted a proposal to the Department of Energy for Stimulus funds that would install and study a broad wide range of advanced smart grid technologies in a regional demonstration involving 27 cooperatives in 11 states.
Improving the efficiency of the existing fleet of power plants
At the beginning of the line – power plants – EPRI points to a potential 3 percent in thermodynamic efficiency gain for 75 GW of the existing coal generation fleet. New technology can also improve the efficiency of ultra-supercritical coal and integrated gasification combined cycle plants. In short, the nation could achieve significant carbon reductions by improving the performance of existing and new coal plants during the period of transition to coal-fired generation with carbon capture and storage.
Under the Clean Air Act, however, making these improvements triggers “new source review,” an expensive, cumbersome and risky process. Unless this disincentive is removed, utilities are unlikely to consider deploying these new technologies.
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