TRANSMISSION- Frequently Asked Questions

The U.S. Electricity System In 15 Maps
By Alex Gilbert February 10, 2016

Electricity in the United States is going through massive changes: the generation mix is shifting rapidly, regulatory and industry models are evolving, and policy is playing an ever important role. All of these changes can be hard to conceptualize, particularly when trying to make sense of how multiple factors interact with each other… Continue Reading>>  

Maps include:
– Operating utility-scale generating units as of September 2015
First off is a relatively new map from EIA that shows all operating large power plants in the country. I like this because it really demonstrates the regional geographies of electricity generation that shape the other factors covered in the rest of this article. In total, there are 16,472 electric generating units larger than 1 MW, which have a combined capacity of 1,066,317 MW (as of November 2015).

– There are actually three main electric grids in the U.S.
While the first map shows the power plants in the country, this map illustrates how these systems are operated. Three key factors jump out. First, there are eight regional entities that work with the North American Electricity Reliability Corporation to maintain electric reliability across the country. Electric reliability is probably the first and foremost service that our electric grid is intended to promote and these entities are responsible for achieving that.

– Wholesale Markets Dominate Electricity Dispatch
While NERC is responsible for reliability standards, it actually does not operate the grid on a day-to-day basis. Traditionally, vertically-integrated utilities had this role. Today, however, things are different. Nearly 70% of U.S. electricity is generated and consumed in regions operated by wholesale electricity markets called ISOs/RTOs.

– ISOs Lead to Market Pricing for Electricity Supply and Demand
ISOs/RTOs operate the transmission grid and oversee the dispatch of electricity based on marginal cost bids. This map demonstrates how locational pricing worked in MISO during a late summer morning in 2011. Notably, these are real-time prices, which only a small portion of electricity sales occur under.

– Retail Restructuring Not as Widespread as Wholesale Power Markets
Although most utilities and state embrace wholesale electricity markets, retail competition remains uncommon across most of the United States. For a while, there was a significant movement towards making retail electricity supply competitive.

– Average Residential U.S. Electricity Price by Utility Service Area
Although ISOs run wholesale electricity markets, most ratepayers do not pay wholesale electricity prices – rather they pay rates to cover all parts of electric service, including distribution and transmission costs.

– U.S. Shale Production Drives Increased Natural Gas Generation
This map is not directly related to electricity but hints at one of the larger shifts occurring in U.S. electricity – the shift from coal to natural gas as our primary energy source. Since the shale revolution began in the late 2000’s, U.S. natural gas production increased by almost 50%.

– Natural Gas Storage Underlies Price Volatility
One of the most important characteristics of natural gas in the United States is exceptional price volatility. Natural gas is essential for wintertime space heating in the residential, commercial and industrial sectors. To ensure that there is sufficient natural gas to supply heat for a whole winter season, natural gas is stored during the preceding spring, summer, and fall (the injection season).

– Cheap Marcellus Natural Gas is Killing Coal
This map shows one of the most important developments in electricity during the last four years: the rapid decline of coal electricity. As a result of environmental regulations and low natural gas prices, many coal-fired power plants were forced to retire. It is just not economic to install required pollution control equipment when natural gas prices are keeping wholesale electricity prices low.

– Nuclear Power Plants Primarily in the Eastern U.S.
Nuclear energy is a dominant source of electricity in the United States, providing around 20% of total electricity generation. This map shows the locations of all 100 operating reactors in the country.

– Renewable Portfolio Standards Dominate U.S. Renewable Energy Policy
State policies mandating the use of renewable sources for electricity drove the large gains in wind generation during the last ten years. Further, these policies provide a supporting base for continued growth in both solar and wind during the next 15 years.

– Net Metering is Widespread but Faces Uncertain Future
While state RPS policies primarily support large scale renewables, state net metering laws support development of distributed solar electricity. By basically allowing the meter to spin backwards, net metering makes it very cost effective to go solar. What is most surprising about net metering policy is that it exists in almost every state in the country.

– Solar PV Resource Potential
As a mid-latitude country, the U.S. has favorable solar resources, especially when compared to higher latitude Europe.

– Onshore and Offshore Wind Potential
The U.S. really has excellent wind resources as this map of average wind speeds across the country indicate. Critically, unlike solar resources, the geographic variation in these resources severely limits where they can be developed.

– EIA NEMS Electric Market Modules Map
This map is an outlier because it maps something that does not actually exist: these are the regions that the U.S. Energy Information Administration has created for use in the National Energy Modeling System (NEMS), its model for making long term projections of the U.S. electricity grid. I wanted to include it last because it really highlights the difficult of trying to analyze electricity markets.



This article is part of the series highlighting the “Top Things You Didn’t Know About…” Continue reading>>



SO WHAT’S THE HOLD UP IN GETTING NEW TRANSMISSIONS BUILT?    …A 2011 u.s. Chamber of Commerce report revealed that more than 350 energy projects nationwide are stalled as a result of regulatory red tape, including 21 transmission projects.

WHY DO WE NEED TO UPGRADE THE GRID NOW?   …Today, 70% of the lines and large power transformers are more then 25 years old.

WOULD A “SMART GRID” REMOVE THE NEED FOR NEW TRANSMISSION DEVELOPMENT?  …The efficiencies that the smart grid technologies would deliver are not enough to make up for a grid that suffers from poor maintenance and underinvestment.Continue reading for more great q’s and a’s>>



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