Merit Order Ranking favours Renewable Energy

by John Brian Shannon | Reposted from JBS News

What is Merit Order ranking?

Merit Order is a ranking system used by electric utilities to choose the most cost-effective electricity to add to the grid at any given moment.

Thanks to the magic of computerization, microprocessors make thousands of decisions per day based on parameters set by the utility company to help the utility to make the highest profits — based on ‘the spread’ — the difference between what they pay energy producers (the wholesale price) and the price they charge their customers (the retail price).

Most utility companies have Merit Order ranking control rooms similar to this one where decisions are made about which power producer will contribute to the grid. Microprocessors make the instant decisions while humans are present to oversee operations and plan ahead.
Most utility companies have Merit Order ranking control rooms similar to this one where decisions are made about which power producer will contribute to the grid. Microprocessors make the instant decisions while humans are present to oversee operations and plan ahead.

The cheapest electricity on a per kilowatt per hours basis (kW/h) is always solar and wind power which has a merit order ranking of 0 (Merit Order 0) which makes wind and solar the automatic default for utility companies that take every bit of it they can get — and only then do they add power to the grid from the number 1 ranked energy source (Merit Order 1) which in the United States, is coal.

Coal would still be the default energy producer as it was for decades, but because coal has a fuel cost attached to it while solar and wind power don’t, coal ranks lower on the merit order ranking scale. Other electricity generators hold different positions on the merit order ranking scale, with natural gas ‘peaking power plants’ the absolute last choice for utility companies because the per kW/h cost of electricity generated by natural gas gas peaking power plants is so high compared to other energy producers.

The German Merit Order ranking system offers an easy explanation

In the German example, electricity rates are determined hourly and customers are charged the corresponding hourly rate.

For our purposes to explain merit order ranking, this works well. In Germany electricity rates drop by up to 40% during the hours in which solar or wind are active, and this is what Merit Order ranking is all about; Using the cheapest available electricity FIRST — and then filling the gaps with more expensive electrical power generators after all the solar and wind capacity is brought online.

Solar and wind electricity in Germany are rated at Merit Order 0 making them the default for utility companies as they meet their daily demand.

Once all of the available solar and wind capacity is online, only then are, (1) nuclear, (2) coal, and (3) natural gas, ramped up to meet the daily German demand curve.

NOTE: In the U.S. the normal Merit Order rankings are; default (0) for solar and wind, (1) coal, (2) nuclear, (3) hydropower, and (4) natural gas, although this order can change in some parts of the United States, depending which types of energy are produced in a given region.

Still using the German example; The Fraunhofer Institute found – as far back as 2007 – that as a result of the Merit Order ranking system – solar power had reduced the price of electricity on the EPEX exchange by 10 percent on the average, with reductions peaking at up to 40 percent in the early afternoon when the most solar power is generated.

Here’s how the Merit Order works

All available sources of electrical generation are ranked by their marginal costs, from cheapest to most expensive, with the cheapest having the most merit.

The marginal cost is the cost of producing one additional unit of electricity. Electricity sources with a higher fuel cost have a higher marginal cost. If one unit of fuel costs $X, 2 units will cost $X times 2. This ranking is called the order of merit of each source, or the Merit Order.

Using Merit Order to decide means the source with the lowest marginal cost must be used first when there is a need to add more power to the grid – like during sunny afternoon peak hours.

Using the lowest marginal costs first was designed so that cheaper fuels were used first to save consumers money. In the German market, this was nuclear, then coal, then natural gas.

But 2 hours of sunshine cost no more than 1 of sunshine: therefore it has a lower marginal cost than coal – or any source with any fuel cost whatsoever.

So, under the Merit Order ranking of relative marginal costs, devised before there was this much fuel-free energy available on the grid, solar always has the lowest marginal cost during these peaks because two units of solar is no more expensive than one. — Susan Kraemer

It’s as simple as this; With no fuel costs, solar and wind cost less.

Although solar and wind are expensive to construct initially (but not as expensive as large nuclear power plants, large coal power plants, or large hydro-electric dams) there is no fuel price to pay, no weather-related price spikes, fuel transportation costs, fuel supply disruptions, or lack of rainfall to factor into the final electricity price.

As solar panel and wind turbine prices continue to drop thereby encouraging more solar and wind installations, we’ll hear more about Merit Order ranking.

Only solar, wind, hydro-electric and nuclear power have a predictable kW/h price every day of the year. Coal, home heating fuel and natural gas, do not. And that’s everything to energy producers and their customers, the utility companies.

Although energy companies and utilities were slower than consumers to embrace renewable energy, some are now seeing benefit for their business model and henceforth, things will change.

Buckle up, because big changes are coming to the existing utility business model, changes that will benefit energy producers, energy consumers and the environment.


Related Article:

Why can’t we have a level energy subsidy playing field?

by John Brian Shannon |  Reposted from JBS News

All I’m asking for is that renewable energy gets the same subsidies as fossil fuels or nuclear energy. Is that so unreasonable?

You can determine the subsidy costing by any method you choose using a per unit of energy formula — per Barrel of Oil equivalent (BOe) or per kW/h, or any other unit of energy formula you want.

North America’s energy security (similar could be said for Europe, Asia and Australia) is better served by LETTING THE MARKET CHOOSE what’s best for the continent and that can only happen when all energy producers play on the same subsidy playing field. (The cream will rise to the top)

Renewable Energy adds to national security, while Conventional Energy leaves industrialized nations vulnerable

North America’s (for example) biggest national security vulnerability (aside from bio-warfare) comes from literally hundreds of thousands of miles of electrical transmission corridors (pylons and power lines) and pipelines that crisscross the continent.

Every Pentagon General, along with every military rank down to Corporal knows it would be boringly easy for even the most inept enemy of the United States and Canada (both national grids are interconnected) to destroy the North American grid with as little as three well-placed air-to-ground missiles, or alternatively, three truck bombs. Those interconnect sites are unbelievably unprotected.

If that were to happen in mid-winter, millions of North Americans would die, and that’s indisputable.

That it hasn’t happened, proves to me that North America doesn’t have any ‘real’ enemies or it would have occurred a long time ago. (Yes, the U.S. and Canada are ‘irritated’ at some countries and some countries are ‘irritated’ at us — but by virtue of the fact that *they haven’t hit us where we’re most vulnerable* proves they aren’t real enemies, they’re only ‘irritants’)

Centralized Power vs. Decentralized Power

Conventional grid adherents are living in a previous century — a central grid WAS the best thing for North America in the 20th-century — but those days are long gone!

Fossil fuel supporters should stop helping our enemies, which they do by supporting a conventional national grid that even the U.S. military 3X over couldn’t protect!

Decentralized power is the ONLY choice for an energy-secure America!

Make better investment returns on Renewable Energy by leveling the subsidy playing field

I understand that many people are heavily invested in fossil fuels and nuclear power — and I don’t blame them, they were safe and secure investments for decades, but such industries now run counter to the national interest — good investment returns aside!

And yes, the ONLY reason you have those high returns is that those industries are heavily-subsidized by U.S. and Canadian taxpayers; Oil & Gas get $80 billion per year in the U.S. and about $10 billion annually in Canada, nuclear a bit less — but nobody really knows for sure, not even the governments — because it’s all mashed together with nuclear fuel production, long-term ‘spent fuel’ storage, nuclear warhead production and nuclear warhead disposal. (I suspect a similar situation in Europe)

Normal citizens can’t see this because those white elephants are obscured by mountains of cash!

Efficient investment vs. Inefficient investment

Energy companies have become like the Big 3 during the 1960’s and 1970’s, big, powerful, lazy, and wholly unwilling to adapt to changing market conditions.

Remember when 95% of cars registered in the U.S.A. were domestic built and sold? Well, due to the laziness of the Big 3, nowadays less than 35% of new car registrations are North American makes, and more than half of the parts are supplied by Asia or Mexico!

You call that progress???

It’s killing North America!

Renewable Energy creates more jobs than Conventional Energy (even using fossil fuel industry stats!)

Millions of people unemployed in North America because the 1% wanted higher investment returns on their energy stocks! UN-AMERICAN in the extreme!

Energy companies and their investors MUST become patriotic by becoming ‘fleet of foot’ and able to adapt to the already changed national security paradigm — and become ‘ENERGY COMPANIES’ instead of (only) Oil & Gas or (only) nuclear or (only) coal companies.

Profit is a great thing! Energy companies should make plenty of profit because energy is an ultra-important factor in the 21st-century. However, uneven energy subsidies are not a great thing.

Putting a square peg in a square hole, not a square peg in a round hole

When we train soldiers, we don’t try to put a square peg in a round hole — we choose those people based on their merit.

(The best snipers become our snipers, the best tank captains become our tank captains, and the best fighter pilots don’t peel potatoes aboard our warships!) Rather obvious when you think about it, isn’t it?

By the same token, if electricity companies were to embrace ALL energy (they don’t do that now because some energy is highly subsidized and some isn’t) they could then have the option to put a round peg in a round hole and a square peg in a square hole. As it should be!

I must add that gas-fired power generation is increasingly important towards meeting demand — moreso as renewable energy comes on stream. Natural gas burns one million times cleaner than brown coal (lignite) and up to ten-thousand times cleaner than the best black coal (anthracite) and gas power plants can be just as local to demand centres as required — quite unlike hydro-power dams and coal-fired power plants, and even nuclear power plants which usually aren’t welcome near city centres.

READ: Full cost accounting for the life-cycle of coal (Harvard Medicine)

Again, by setting an even subsidy playing field, THE MARKET will choose which kind of power to use in what location — and don’t worry — your precious investment returns will be just as high as they are now. Maybe higher!

As for U.S. jobs, solar produces more jobs than all other producers put together — and rising exponentially!

Renewable energy vs. 'green bullets'
More workers in solar than in all fossil fuel power generation combined (U.S.A.) — Statista

Summary

By setting a level subsidy playing field, the cream will rise to the top, and the market will choose which peg to put in which demand hole — nothing could be more efficient!

And in that case, renewable energy will win hands down!

National security will become greatly enhanced as industrialized nations will no longer be dangling from a thread via the hundreds of thousands of miles of pylons and power lines that will no longer be required, as renewable energy is local energy, while conventional energy must carry electricity many thousands of miles.

Stop choosing profits over national security!

Stop arguing against national security, stop arguing against a free market, and stop arguing that you can’t make the same or better profits via renewable energy. It’s intellectually dishonest.

And for those who want to send me ‘green bullets’ — bring it!


Related Articles:

  • Trump’s Quixotic Energy Policy (Project Syndicate)
  • On the economics of wind and solar power (The Beam)
  • Mr Trump: Tear down those energy subsidies! (kleef.asia)
  • Energy Darwinism: The Case for a Level Playing Field (JBS News)

The Inevitability of Renewable Energy

by John Brian Shannon

Renewable Energy costs have fallen to such a level over the past ten years that it now competes, sans subsidies in some locations, against heavily-subsidized fossil fuel power generation, nuclear power generation and hydro-electric dams which receive billions of dollars of subsidies every year.

Many people might be surprised to hear that; It certainly hasn’t been reported by a majority of the mainstream media.

Fuel Subsidies: The Elephant in the Room

Historically, the reason given for subsidies was to allow new industries to move past the typically turbulent first few years of operation, until they reached a sort of ‘steady-state’ when the business model was fully functional and profits alone could sustain the business, yet the conventional energy industries that have been an important and profitable part of the energy sector are still receiving billions in subsidies annually — while the new kid on the block finds that their much-smaller subsidies are tapering.

Since the first oil wells were struck in Pennsylvania in the late 1890’s, subsidies of one form or another have been an important factor in our primary and secondary energy world.

After the coal price crash in 2014 and the oil price crash of 2016, total volumes of coal and oil deliveries dropped significantly, while the actual subsidy regimes in place for those fuels did not change significantly. Therefore, any perceived subsidy drop must be viewed in the context of lower production which affected the total subsidy amounts received by those industries.

At the same time, many countries that have supported the development of renewable energy have lowered or eliminated their renewable energy subsidies. Germany is an telling example of an early-adopter that discontinued their renewable energy Feed-In Tariffs, while the United States has canceled their lucrative Production Tax Credit for wind energy projects.

And nobody seems to notice! Renewable Energy installations are continuing, the rate of new RE installations is at an all-time high and increasing on a month-to-month basis.

Renewable Energy vs. Conventional Energy

Global Energy Subsidy Totals WEO-2016

The value of subsidies to fossil fuels fell sharply in 2015 to $325 billion, down from almost $500 billion in 2014. Lower fossil-fuel prices were the main reason for the drop, but lower prices have also given additional impetus to pricing reforms in many countries, both fossil fuel importers and exporters. Even with the drop in 2015, the amount going to subsidise fossil fuels is still more than double the $150 billion spent on subsidies to renewable energy.

Renewable energy is the growth story of WEO-2016

In our main scenario, nearly 60% of all new power generation capacity to 2040 comes from renewables and, by 2040, the majority of renewables-based generation is competitive without any subsidies. In a scenario compatible with 2°C, significantly faster growth means that, in the four largest power markets (China, the United States, the European Union and India), variable renewables become the largest source of generation. — International Energy Agency | Fact Sheet: World Energy Outlook 2016

Renewable Energy jobs vs. Conventional Energy jobs.
Renewable Energy jobs vs. Conventional Energy jobs in the U.S. Image courtesy of Statista.

“According to a new report from the U.S. Department of Energy, solar power employs more people than coal, oil and gas combined.

Last year, solar power accounted for 43 percent of the Electric Power Generation sector’s workforce, while fossil fuels combined employed 22 percent. The statistic will be welcomed with open arms by those trying to refute Donald Trump’s assertion that renewable energy projects are bad news for the U.S. economy.

Around 374,000 people were employed in solar energy, according to the report while generation through fossil fuels had a workforce of just over 187,000. The solar boom can be attributed to construction work associated with expanding generation capacity.

The report states that the employment gap is actually growing with net coal generation decreasing 53 percent over the last 10 years.

During the same period of time, electricity generation through gas expanded 33 percent while solar went up by an impressive 5,000 percent.” — Niall McCarthy | Statista

Power to the People!

Conventional energy producers in business for over a century can’t seem to survive without huge subsidy amounts — while Renewable Energy barely topped $150 billion globally, and those RE subsidies are now disappearing.

Energy Darwinism:

It’s one more reason why it’s a great time to be a Renewable Energy blogger!

Energy Darwinism: The Case for a Level Playing Field

Renewable energy replaces lost European nuclear capacity

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Nuclear reactors are starting to shut down in Europe

It began in earnest in the wake of the Fukushima disaster when Germany inspected its problem-plagued nuclear power plants and decided to take 9 of its nuclear power plants offline in 2011 and the rest offline by 2022.

There is plenty of public support in the country for Germany’s planned nuclear closures, even with the additional fee added to each German electricity bill to pay for nuclear power plant decommissioning, which completes in 2045.

Switzerland likewise has decided to get out of the nuclear power business beginning in 2015 and decommission their nuclear power plants by 2045.

Other European nations are also looking at retiring their nuclear power plants. But the news today is about the UK, Belgium, Germany and Spain.

Heysham_Nuclear_Power_Station UK operated by EDF
Heysham Nuclear Power Station in the UK which is operated by EDF of France. Image courtesy: CleanTechnica.com

In the UK, four (French-operated) EDF reactors built in 1983 have been shut down after one of them was found to have a crack in its centre spine. (EDF stands for Electricity de France which is a French utility responsible for managing many nuclear reactors)

At first only the affected unit was taken offline (in June) but upon further inspection it was determined that the other three were at risk to fail in the coming months. Whether or not these four reactors can be repaired economically — all were scheduled to be decommissioned before 2020.

The sudden shortfall in electrical generation due to these unscheduled nuclear power plant shutdowns has been met by 5 GW of new wind power generation, which has seamlessly stepped in to fill demand.

Additional to that, another 5 GW of solar power has been added to the UK grid within the past 5 years. And that’s in cloudy olde England, mates!

In Belgium, 3 out of 5 of their nuclear power plants are offline until December 31, 2014 due to maintenance, sabotage, or terror attacks — depending upon whom you talk to.

Belgium’s Doel 4 reactor experienced a deliberate malfunction last week and workers in the country’s n-plants are henceforth directed to move around inside the plants in pairs.

Also, their Tihange 2 reactor won’t be ready to resume power production until late March, 2021. See this continuously-updated (and long) list of nuclear power plant shutdowns in Belgium.

Further, the utility has advised citizens that hour-long blackouts will commence in October due to a combination of unexpected n-plant shutdowns and higher demand at that time of year.

Belgian energy company Electrabel said its Doel 4 nuclear reactor would stay offline at least until the end of this year after major damage to its turbine, with the cause confirmed as sabotage.

Doel 4 is the youngest of four reactors at the Doel nuclear plant, 20 km north of Antwerp, Belgium’s second-biggest city. The country has three more reactors in Tihange, 25 km southwest of the city of Liege.

Doel 1 and 2, which came on line in 1975, are set to close in 2015. Tihange 1, which also started operation in 1975 and was designed to last 30 years, got a 10-year extension till 2015.

The two closed reactors Doel 3 and Tihange 2 were connected to the grid in 1982 and 1983. Doel 4 and Tihange 3, which came on line in 1985, were operating normally until the closure of Doel 4 last week.

The shutdown of Doel 4’s nearly 1 gigawatt (GW) of electricity generating capacity as well as closures of two other reactors (Doel 3 and Tihange 2) for months because of cracks in steel reactor casings adds up to just over 3 GW of Belgian nuclear capacity that is offline, more than half of the total.

In Britain, EDF Energy, owned by France’s EDF, took three of its nuclear reactors offline for inspection on Monday after finding a defect in a reactor of a similar design. – Reuters

In Germany, the nuclear power generation capacity missing since 2011 has been met by a combination of solar, wind, bio, natural gas, and unfortunately some coal. But that sounds worse than it is.

According to the Fraunhofer Institute, renewable energy produced about 81 TWh, or 31% of the nation’s electricity during the first half of 2014. Solar production is up 28%, wind 19% and biomass 7% over last year.

Meanwhile, with the exception of nuclear energy, all conventional sources are producing less. The output from gas powered plants was half of what it had been in 2010 and brown coal powered plants are producing at a similar level to 2010-2012. – CleanTechnica.com

Let’s see what our friends at the Fraunhofer Institute have to say in their comparison of the first half of 2013 vs. the first half of 2014.

German electricity production H1 2013 - H1 2014
Fraunhofer Institute compares the different energy production between the first half of 2013 and the first half of 2014.

Although unspokenby power company executives operating in Germany, Spain, and some other European countries, the panic felt by traditional power generators is due to the massive changes in ‘their’ market since 2009.

Things move slowly in the utility industry — ten years is seen as a mere eyeblink in time, as the industry changes very little decade over decade. Recent changes must be mind-blowing for European power company executives.

European-union-renewables-chart
European-union-renewables by Eurostat — Renewable energy statistics. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons Keep in mind that this map displays results from 2012. The 2014 map will show significantly more ‘green’ energy, once that map becomes available in 2015.

It occurs to me that the end of the conventional energy stranglehold on Europe parallels the ending of Star Wars VI.

Help me take this mask off

It’s a mask to hide behind when conventional power producers don’t want the facts aired.

Fossil fuel and nuclear power generation have had (and continue to have) huge subsidy regimes in place which they don’t want publicly advertised — and they don’t want renewable energy power producers to have any subsidies. And conventional power producers don’t want fossil fuel externalities and nuclear power externalities advertised either. That’s a lot of hiding, right there.

Externalities are simply another form of subsidy to fossil fuel and nuclear power plant operators and their fuel supply chains, which usually take the form of additional public healthcare spending or environmental spending that is required to mitigate toxic airborne emissions, oil spills, etc.

Spain has ended it’s Feed-in-Tariff scheme for renewable energy, while keeping conventional power producer subsidies in place.

Not only that, suddenly homeowners aren’t allowed to collect power from the Sun or harvest power from the wind unless it is for their own use. Electricity cannot be collected by Spanish residents and then sold to the grid for example, nor to anyone else.

Spain’s government has taken it one step further in a bid to keep the conventional energy companies from drowning in their tears. After a meteoric rise in wind and solar capacity, Spain has now taxed renewable energy power producers retroactively to 2012 and ruled that renewable energy will be capped to 7.5% profit. Renewable energy profits over and above the 7.5% threshold instantly becomes instant tax revenue for the government. (Quite unlike conventional energy producers in the country which can make any amount of profit they want and continue to keep their subsidies)

While all of this has been going on, Spain and Portugal have quietly lowered their combined CO2 output by 21.3% (equal to 61.4 million fewer tonnes of CO2 emitted) since 2012, thanks to renewable energy.

But you’ll die

Not only has European renewable energy now stepped up to fill the voids due to nuclear power plant maintenance and sabotage shutdowns, it has scooped incredible market share from conventional power producers.

In January 2014, 91% of the monthly needed Portuguese electricity consumption was generated by renewable sources, although the real figure stands at 78%, as 14% was exported. – Wikipedia

Unwittingly, the German and Spanish power companies have provided the highest possible compliment to the renewable energy industry, and if publicized, it would read something like this;

“We can’t compete with renewable energy that has equal amounts of subsidy. Therefore, remove the renewable energy subsidy while we keep ‘our’ traditional subsidies, until we can reorient our business model – otherwise, we perish!”

Nothing can stop that now

Ending the European renewable energy Feed-in-Tariff schemes will only temporarily slow solar and wind installations as both have reached price-parity in recent months — against still-subsidized conventional power generators.

Even bigger changes are coming to the European electricity grid over the next few years. Nothing can stop that now.

Tell your sister; You were right about me

Conventional power producers in Europe provided secure and reliable power for decades, it was what powered the European postwar success story, but having the electricity grid all to themselves for decades meant that Europe’s utilities became set in their ways and although powerful, were not able to adapt quickly enough to a new kind of energy with zero toxicity and lower per unit cost.

Renewable energy, at first unguided and inexperienced, quickly found a role for itself and is now able to stand on its own feet without subsidies — unlike conventional power generators.

Considering the sheer scale of the energy changes underway in Europe, conventional energy has been superceded by a superior kind of energy and with surprisingly little drama.