- ISO New England last week issued its biennial, long-term system plan, finding the rise of solar resources along with energy efficiency advances will lead to a 10-year downturn in load growth and summer peak demand.
- According to the 2017 Regional System Plan, the grid operator says its forecast shows total annual use of electric energy declining by 0.6% per year, with the summer peak declining 0.1% annually by 2026 under normal weather conditions.
- The region's dependence on natural gas is also highlighted, as the ISO warned inadequate pipeline capacity could constrain supply to power plants. About half of the region's power was generated by natural gas last year.
Despite the rise of clean energy resources helping to reduce regional load, New England continues to face possible gas shortages constraining power generators. According to the planning report, although the region is projected to have sufficient resources to meet capacity requirements and adequate transmission facilities, "fuel security remains a primary issue the region must resolve to meet its energy-supply needs."
The grid operator said it is conducting an operational fuel-security analysis to quantify the region’s risk, and the results will be discussed with stakeholders in 2018. The limited availability of gas transportation infrastructure "can present fuel-security risks to the region, especially during winter operating conditions, even as the use of natural gas as a primary fuel for generating units is projected to grow," the ISO said.
Despite fuel concerns, grid officials say the ISO is in the midst of a transformation.
Gordon van Welie, president and CEO of ISO New England, said in a statement that the region's energy system is "in the midst of a major evolution toward a cleaner, hybrid grid."
The ISO's forward capacity auction in February procured sufficient resources to meet resource adequacy criteria through 2021, with about 264 MW of new generation and 640 MW of new demand-side resources, including 515 MW of new energy efficiency, 6 MW of new wind and 5 MW of new solar.
From 2010 to summer 2020, power plant retirements will total approximately 4,800 MW, with much of that replaced by clean energy resources.
ISO New England's report shows older oil- and coal-fired power plants, along with nuclear generators, are at risk of retirement due to economic and environmental pressures, "and these retiring resources are likely to be replaced by natural-gas-fired power plants and renewable energy resources such as wind and solar."
Solar resources totaled 1,918 MW of nameplate capacity by the end of 2016. ISO New England’s multistate forecast of PV growth projects that by the end of 2026, solar will grow to 4,733 MW in nameplate capacity and produce about 6,200 GWh of energy that year.
New England estimates solar resources reduced summer peak loads by 575 MW in 2017, with that number expected to climb to 1,035 MW in 2026.
"The growth of behind-the-meter resources, which the ISO cannot observe or dispatch in real-time, continues to add complexity to system operations," the grid operator said.
In its report two years ago, the ISO said energy efficiency was expected to drive a reduction in the 10-year gross winter peak demand growth rate from 0.7% to a net annual value of −0.1%. Now, without solar PV and efficiency, the ISO said the baseline forecast shows annual energy consumption would grow by 0.9% annually and peak demand would grow by 1.0%.