When you charge a phone, turn on a television, or plug-in an electric vehicle, think of coal, gas, and nuclear; the three major fuels generating the power at your fingertips.
Consumers are told electricity is cleaner, and government regulations are forcing a transition into electric stoves, electric heating, and electric cars.
Just 5.8 percent of new cars sold in the United States in 2022 were electric. But with President Joe Biden’s proposed regulation that 60 percent of new car sales must be electric by 2030, and then 67 percent of sales by 2032, demand for electricity is expected to rise sharply over the next seven years.
At the same time, electric generation is in a forced transition to renewables like solar and wind, and until that transition is complete, everything electric is powered mostly by coal, gas, and nuclear.
The power grid is not ready to handle the forecasted demand.
According to a recent PJM Interconnection report, the reliability of the power grid is at risk. PJM, one of seven regional transmission organizations in the United States, coordinates the movement of wholesale electricity in all or parts of 13 states and the District of Columbia to assure electric reliability—that the power is always there when desired.
But PJM has identified potential risks to the reliability of the bulk electric system by 2030 if current trends continue.
There is a “timing mismatch between resource retirements, load growth, and the pace of new generation entry,” the report says. In other words, power generation is declining as demand grows and replacement power would not be enough to meet demand.
This is not the time to reduce electric capacity in the United States, yet that is exactly what is happening.
Thermal generators (coal, oil, gas, nuclear) are retiring at a rapid pace due to government and private sector policies, as well as economics, the PJM report said.
Pennsylvania’s largest coal-fired power plant, the Homer City Generating Station, announced this month it will close by July 1, laying off 129 workers. This means that all five Pennsylvania coal-fired plants will be closed or converted to natural gas by 2028.
The United States led the globe in coal-fired power plant retirements in 2022, with 13.5 GW of capacity retired in 2022, according to Global Energy Monitor, a San Francisco-based non-governmental organization that tracks fossil fuel and renewable energy projects worldwide and promotes shifting to so-called renewable energy.
A single gigawatt (GW) is equal to 1 billion watts.
No new coal-fired power plants are being built in the United States currently, but as the country races toward net zero carbons, China is going in the opposite direction.
New coal capacity under development in China increased by 38 percent in 2022 (266 GW to 366 GW year over year), while the capacity in the rest of the world decreased by 20 percent (214 GW to 172 GW). China now accounts for 68 percent of new global coal capacity under development, up from 55 percent a year ago, according to Global Energy Monitor.
Nuclear power is also disappearing faster than it is being replaced.
The first new nuclear power reactor in seven years in the United States started splitting atoms last month. Georgia Power has said its Vogtle Unit in Waynesboro, Georgia, is expected to be fully in service by May or June.
At least 13 U.S. nuclear power reactors have permanently closed since 2012.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has issued permits for eight more nuclear reactors that have been in the works for 15 years or longer, and it is unknown if or when these reactors will start producing energy.
“PJM’s interconnection queue—those generation resources seeking to hook into the PJM electrical system—is composed primarily of intermittent and limited-duration resources—such as renewables dependent on the wind and sun or batteries that can only discharge for a limited amount of hours,” PJM Spokesman Dan Lockwood told The Epoch Times.
“Given the operating characteristics of these resources, we need multiple megawatts of these resources to replace one megawatt of thermal generation,” he added, explaining that PJM is working with stakeholders and state and federal policy makers to preserve reliability as the system becomes more dependent on renewable energy.
“With reliability as our most important priority, we are focused on ensuring a reliable energy transition as we move ahead.”
Power Mix Market
Many consumers don’t realize their electricity comes from a mix of generators.
PJM works with more than 1,400 generation sources. The easiest way to understand this mix is to look at the PJM website where a pie chart graph shows, in nearly real time, the mix of sources currently powering electricity within PJM’s footprint through all or parts of Delaware, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia.
Before electricity arrives in your light switch, it is generated in numerous ways, including coal, oil, gas, nuclear, hydro, wind, and solar. Electric generators arrange for the sale of power through a series of three PJM markets, the “day ahead” market, the “real time” market, and the “capacity market.”
“The capacity market is a promise to provide electricity, when called upon, three years in advance. So if they have a capacity auction in 2020, It’s a promise to provide power in 2023,” Rachel Gleason, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coal Alliance, told The Epoch Times.
During the competitive market auction, PJM determines the lowest cost of available generators needed to meet demand for every hour, and then determines a clearing price at each location in the region for each hour. Once the lowest price is determined, all power generators are paid the same rate for that hour.
PJM gives power generators a daily payment in exchange for the promise to provide power in three years on the capacity market.
In recent years, renewables—wind and solar—have been able to get into the capacity market, even though they’re not reliable, Gleason said. Renewables are cheaper to produce than coal, gas, and nuclear, and they are subsidized by the government.
Because of this, they are the lowest bidder and set the rate.
“In recent years, those capacity payments have decreased by a significant amount of money. So you have baseload sources—nuclear, coal, and probably some natural gas—[that] are not completely clear in that capacity auction.”
While the capacity market is three years in advance, the real time market runs every five minutes, Gleason said.
PJM grid operators are constantly watching to ensure there is enough power to cover demand.
Sometimes, a winter storm freezes the mechanisms in gas pipelines and gas stops flowing. Sometimes the wind does not spin windmills and the sun does not shine on solar. In those cases, PJM must shop the real time market to meet demand.
“If you receive that capacity payment and you’ve promised to deliver power and you don’t, you get fined,” Gleason said.
A sudden temperature drop may have consumers across a region crank up their heat at the same time, raising demand unexpectedly. Again, PJM needs to get more power from the real time market.
Nuclear is always producing at the same level, Gleason said; it can’t ramp up to meet extra demand in an emergency. “But coal has on site fuel, it’s literally there at the plant. You can burn more, burn less, create more or less energy on the turn of a dime.”
That is why PJM called for more coal in its mix in December 2022, during winter storm Elliott.
“A megawatt hour of solar is not comparable to a megawatt hour of nuclear or coal,” Gleason said. “It’s different because it’s not reliable. Nuclear, gas, and coal are baseload. They need to be there for when the sun’s not shining, and the wind is not blowing.”