Clean Power Plans – The Road to Reclamation with Smart Grid!

  • By: Staff Editor
  • Date: September 24, 2015
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Clean Power Plans – The Road to Reclamation with Smart Grid!

With the scorecard for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants showing signs of alarming environmental impact, the Clean Power Plan is a welcome initiative from US shores to create both national and global impact. The EPA-devised mandate for states has already created quite a buzz within the industry and met with more approvals than uproar. But where is this journey headed?

A Summary of the Clean Power Plan Rule

Paving the way for cleaner energy and reducing GHG emissions - the objective behind the rule is simple and straightforward. The CPP is now considered a historic opportunity for the US to lead in its efforts to address global warming.

With power plants accounting for almost 40% of US carbon dioxide emissions, the CPP lays out a state-by-state plan to reduce emissions. In June 2014, when the proposed rule first rolled out, there was debate and speculation. Since President Obama and the EPA announced the final rule in August 2015, the discussions have continued with much fervor, accompanied this time by a ream of questions.

At the outset, something must be said for the flexibility that the rule allows. With years of public outreach and engagement ahead of devising the rule, the Clean Power Plan had a wide audience even before it reached official status. This ensured the plan took into account various factors and created a reasonable and adaptable plan for utilities.

By setting individual targets for states based on their resources and equipment and drawing utilities towards renewable energy and energy efficiency, the plan seeks to cut down on carbons emissions significantly. Current forecasts for 2030 claim plants will cut back on CO2 emissions, assuring 32% lesser emissions than in 2005.

Further, forecasts also depict that SO2 emissions from power plants will be 90% lower than 2005 levels, while NOx emissions will be 72% lesser.

States are expected to submit a final plan or an extension for the same by September 6, 2016. The extension period ends September 6, 2018. Compliance with the plans submitted is to commence in 2022 to achieve the state targets set for 2030.

What Can States do to Comply with the Clean Power Plan?

The flexible terms of the rule allow states to achieve their targets employing a combination of proven strategies. Be it energy efficiency, increased investments in renewable energy such as wind and solar, optimization of smart grid capabilities, or inter-state emission trading schemes, the path to explore possibilities is open.

The EPA has calculated performance rates for utilities and translated them into state goals –classifying them as rate or mass based compliance goals. These goals take into account each state’s unique melee of utilities and their capabilities. According to the EPA, a nation-wide analysis for 2030 reflects that a mass-based approach is much more cost effective and less expensive than a rate-based approach. A mass-based approach, in many cases, also offers further flexibilities for states to meet the CPP targets.

The Three Building Blocks – Setting the Baseline for Cutting Emissions

  • The three building blocks dictated within the rule set the baseline for cutting back on emissions.
  • The first building block suggests employing more efficient systems in coal plants such as heat rate improvements.
  • Building block two focuses on running natural gas plants more than coal plants.
  • Building block three, possibly the most ambitious venture of the lot, recommends scaling up building sources of renewable energy in states. 

Familiarity with Emission Control Options

  • Heat rate improvements
  • Fuel switching to a lower carbon content fuel
  • Integration of renewable energy into EGU operations
  • Combined heat and power
  • Qualified biomass co-firing and repowering 
  • Renewable energy (new and capacity uprates) - wind, solar, hydro
  • Nuclear generation (new and capacity uprates)
  • Demand-side energy efficiency programs and policies
  • Demand-side management measures
  • Electricity transmission and distribution improvements
  • Carbon capture and utilization for existing sources
  • Carbon capture and sequestration for existing sources (EPA, n.d.)

Smart Grid Capabilities with Significant Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Potential

The rush to understand and make room for the Clean Power Plan has pushed forward the emerging need for utilities to ramp up their capabilities. The smart grid, when compared to the existing electrical grid, can:

  • Improve reliability, energy efficiency and information flow
  • Facilitate the integration of renewable generation sources
  • Increase permeation of distributed energy resources
  • Reduce electrical losses
  • Promote energy conservation through communication and feedback to consumers 

With their advanced sensors, communication networks, and monitoring devices, smart grid technologies can contribute significantly towards reducing GHG emission reductions. Connecting the dots and incorporating them in CPP compliance programs would be an additional step in the right direction for utilities gearing up for submitting their proposals in September 2016.

Additional Resources

Webinar on Reaching Clean Power Plan Goals at No Cost: Securing the Smart Grid’s Potential  by Paul Alvarez

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