The 21st century is seeing the rapid expansion of power resource types in New England, from wind and solar power to demand resources to new energy storage options. Not only are these technologies supplying the region with electricity and participating in the wholesale electricity marketplace—they are changing the very nature of the power system.
The amount of renewable energy and energy efficiency in New England has been growing rapidly, though it will be many years before it may match the amount of natural gas capacity currently on the system and proposed for development.
Renewables and other new technologies hold much promise for New England. For example:
Despite their rapid growth, the region is still decades away from installing enough renewable resources and grid-scale energy storage to allow for complete independence from fossil fuels. The expansion of new technologies also brings challenges and costs. For example:
Changing weather conditions can lead to rapid and sizeable swings in electricity output from wind- and solar-power resources, which is why they’re called variable or intermittent. More wind and solar power creates a need for fast-starting, flexible resources that can take up the slack when the wind stops or the clouds roll in. New natural gas generators will likely fill this role, further exacerbating New England’s fuel-security challenge.
Interconnecting more onshore wind power in New England—or increasing access to hydropower from Canada—is going to require significant transmission upgrades. See Key Stats—Transmission.
Many solar arrays are installed “behind the meter” directly to retail customer sites or local distribution utilities. This means that ISO system operators can’t “see” their performance in real time. This makes forecasting and planning for the effects of PV very challenging, both on a long-term and day-to-day basis. See Solar Power in New England: Locations and Impact.
The ISO’s forecasting efforts have revealed a potential problem: much of the region’s PV isn’t set up to “ride through” low-voltage conditions that can be caused when a transmission line or generator trips off line. Instead, they may automatically disconnect, exacerbating the problem. And if a large amount of PV were to shut down suddenly, demand on the regional grid would rise considerably, introducing instability. To learn more about how voltage, load ramping, and frequency help maintain power grid reliability and how they’re affected by the increasing penetration of variable generation, watch The Basics of Essential Reliability Services—a series of short videos presented by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC).
The region’s capacity market—and the importance of accurate prices—are taking on greater significance as New England’s power fleet transforms itself. But certain state actions may inadvertently undermine the capacity market. Read more in Accommodating State Environmental Goals within the Competitive Marketplace.
Winter operations are becoming increasingly difficult due to natural-gas-fired generators’ fuel-security issue and the retirements of oil, coal, and nuclear power plants. Wind and solar resources can offset some natural gas use. However:
Because most solar power in New England is connected behind the meter, it serves to reduce the amount of electricity drawn from the regional grid. This load profile simulates the impact that growing amounts of solar power will have during winter—and shows how it can’t serve winter peak demand. The steepening ramp to peak load hour also illustrates how flexible, fast-responding power resources will become increasingly important for serving the region’s needs.
To fulfill our responsibilities to New England in light of the evolving power system, we’ve made major innovations to how we operate the grid and plan for the future, to our IT systems, and to the marketplace we design and administer. For example:
Learn more at Working toward a Smarter, Greener Grid.
Several market-based changes are also helping pave the way for future grid transformation:
With the 2018 publication of its Operational Fuel-Security Analysis, the ISO has sought for the first time to measure the potential effects of fuel-related variables—including increased renewables—on the region’s ability to maintain a reliable supply of electricity in future winters. The report is intended to help support a regional discussion of fuel-security risks and potential mitigation efforts.