In many parts of the world, power plants that run on natural gas are used to fill the electricity supply gap during periods of peak demand. Even though gas-fired power plants are cleaner than coal-fired counterparts, environmental groups generally oppose deployment of peaking power plants (a.k.a. “peakers”) that burn fossil fuels and produce greenhouse gases. Nevertheless, abandoning natural gas raises the question of what sources of energy can take its place in meeting demand spikes. Recently, Strategen Consulting has been commissioned to produce a study for the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium to discuss the feasibility of replacing the aging thermal power plants on Long Island with battery energy storage systems (BESS). According to the study, battery installations represent a highly cost-efficient alternative to the existing power plants in the region.
New York is one of the few states that are setting ambitious goals for reducing carbon emissions. At the end of 2018, the government of New York officially established the target of using only clean and carbon-free energies for electricity generation by 2040. On the other hand, the state continues to rely on natural gas power plants. Long Island, in particular, is a district within the state that heavily consumes fossil fuels due to its semi-isolated geography and large population. It also hosts many gas-fired peakers.
The Strategen study finds that many of the existing peakers on Long Island are too old, too dirty, and too costly to operate. The oldest ones were actually built in the 1940s. The study asserts that these aging power plants ought to be decommissioned in order to improve the surrounding environment and save a lot of money.
There is the argument that energy storage systems based on batteries cannot hold or release electricity over a long period. However, the analysis by Strategen reveals that 54% of the dispatches made by the peakers on Long Island lasted no more than four hours. The performance capability of today’s energy storage batteries is more than sufficient to cover this short duration of high demand. Strategen further points out that BESS could provide support for as long as 13 hours in the near future thanks to technological advancements. In such scenario, batteries could replace natural gas power plants for about 90% of the dispatches that are less than 13 hours in duration.
After thoroughly examining the power infrastructure of Long Island, Strategen has determined that most power plants there are only for meeting peak demand. They are in the idle mode for much of their existence. In other words, Long Island has more than enough generation capacity to satisfy the power consumption of its residents. Further investments in the maintenance of some of the old power plants there can be considered a waste of public funds and resources.
The study lays out a three-phase plan for replacing the peakers on Long Island with BESS. The first phase is projected to decommission as much as 334MW of gas-fired peaking capacity. This initial adoption of BESS is not expected to cause any disruptions in electricity supply. At the same time, a huge amount of money will be saved.
New York has recently lowered the allowable level of nitrogen oxide emissions. Set to be in force in 2023, the new standard for this air pollutant poses a huge operational challenge for peakers. Although gas-fired generation units produce less particulate matter compared with coal-fired counterparts, the nitrogen gas emitted from the former tends to react with air at high temperatures to form nitrogen oxide. Hence, some of the relatively young power plants may have to be retrofitted with additional pollution-control technologies, while many of the older power plants will have to undergo even more costly upgrades in order to keep themselves in operation.
For local governments across New York, the choice seems obvious. Installing energy storage systems is more economical than attempting to bring aging power plants up to the new emission standard. The Strategen study says that the second phase of the plan to replace the peakers on Long Island with BESS will reduce another 782MW of gas-fired peaking capacity by 2023. If solar and offshore wind projects in New York are completed on schedule, then the third phase of the plan will result in the retiring of more than 1GW of gas-fired peaking capacity by 2030.
The Long Island Power Authority has commenced a number of energy storage projects, but it remains rather cautious about the switch from natural gas to batteries. Strategen contends that more aggressive actions can be taken to promote the large-scale adoption of BESS from meeting peak demand. In addition to the Strategen study, there are also many other reports that advocate this policy. However, no peaker in New York has been replaced with a battery installation so far.
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