Each month, I buy about 200 kW (kilowatts) of wind energy. PECO Wind is my electricity utility’s wind power arm. I figure at the very least I am helping to create a demand for wind power—and all things being equal, I would rather my electricity come from wind, or some other renewable source, than something like coal or oil, which are the current main sources for the electricity we use. So I did a little research to see where my electricity comes from before it gets to PECO. I was also a little curious as to where my electricity would come from in the future. Is there any prospect for me to reduce my dependence upon coal and oil.
Let’s call PECO my electric retailer. PECO in turn owns some electric generation facilities; they also can buy electricity from the regional power grid to resell to consumers like me. For PECO, the regional grid is the one operated by PJM Interconnection. PJM Interconnection is the organization that oversees the wholesale electricity markets in 13 states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, etc. If anyone would know the answer to my question (where does my power come from), they would.
They did. They had a chart that shows the percentage of the grid coming from various sources (coal, oil, wind, nuclear, hydro, etc.). I was pleased to find out that this includes renewable energy as a viable source of energy—not necessarily prominent, but viable. As of the end of 2008, renewables (including my PECO Wind purchase) accounted for a 1%-2% of the electricity grid. The important item for me is not so much the actual percentage that renewables are of the grid. The important thing is the fact that they are a recognized part of the electricity market in the first place. (Yes, I know that coal and oil based are the most dominant players, and will be for quite a while).
However, the percentage of renewable sources will increase in the future. This is because of several factors. One is that numerous states are implementing “renewable portfolio standards”. As a general rule, these require that utilities in a state procure a target percentage of their electric supply from renewable sources (wind, solar, biomass, etc). For example, the Pennsylvania standard is about 20% by 2020. Across PJM’s service territory, this equates to an eight-fold increase in renewables demand over the next 15 years. Another factor is that a significant percentage of new proposed power generation capacity is wind, solar and other renewables vs. coal and oil based.
Hopefully, these trends continue, which will bode well from a sustainability perspective. If the percentage of renewables in the grid goes up, then the percentage of non-renewables in the same electric grid has to go down. This means that if I use the same amount of electricity, my utilization of coal and oil can only decrease. I hope this is true—and if I can reduce my own usage of electricity, my dependence on coal, oil and other power sources I do not particularly like will go down even further. Now that is something to be hopeful for.