The Council recognizes that power planning is an ongoing effort. This power plan reflects our recommendations based on our understanding of the system today, the availability and costs and benefits of new resources, and the existing modeling tools. We recognize, however, that there are enhancements needed to continue to improve our power planning in the future. To that end, the Council recommends development of data and tools in the areas of equity, the valuation of model inputs, and enhanced metrics and tools for improved modeling. 



[Council Role: Active Participant]

Through its development of the power plan, and in particular discussions in the System Integration Forum[1] on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the power planning process, the Council identified a gap in equity data that is informative to supporting equitable representation, and accountability in regional and utility resource plans. The Council recommends that the region convene a series of workshops to investigate existing equity data—encompassing generation, transmission and distribution, and demand side resources—, share publicly available data sources, and perform a gap analysis to identify areas where further research and data are needed. The goal of this workshop is to develop a regional framework to improve future power planning analysis, including future Council power plans and regional utility integrated resource plans. The workshop participants will need to identify the appropriate entities to manage these efforts long-term. Regional cooperation and collaboration—broad representation across the region, including many agencies and utility groups—is crucial to the success of this effort. The Council will use its role as convener to assist in launching the first workshop.

Improved Valuation of Model Inputs

Upstream Methane

[Independent Entity and Regional Experts, Northwest Gas Association, Northwest Energy Coalition]

Despite the focus on renewables, natural gas continues to play an important role in providing energy to the Northwest. Methane, the primary component of natural gas, is an especially potent greenhouse gas and measures of atmospheric levels have been rising significantly in recent years.[2],[3] The 2021 Power Plan is the first to include an estimate of upstream methane emissions from the natural gas system directly in the planning process. For this Power Plan, the Council—leveraging the expertise around the Natural Gas Advisory Committee—developed an estimate for methane release rate of the natural gas consumed in the Northwest, which is drawn from Western Canada and the Western United States. While we are confident in the approach and assumptions for this analysis, we recognize that there are gaps in our understanding.

Assessing the upstream methane emissions related to the extraction, processing, transportation, and storage of natural gas is a complex undertaking. This has been an important topic, spurring a number of studies that use new methods to assess the overall emissions from natural gas activities in the United States. However, the level of methane releases can vary among specific gas basins. To add a further level of complexity, estimates for the same gas basin can vary depending on the methods and tools that were used to develop the estimate.

Therefore, the Council recommends working with the Northwest Gas Association and other interested regional bodies to design a study and define a course of action with the goal being to more fully quantify the upstream methane emissions related to the natural gas consumed within our region. We also recommend a follow-up study on how best to limit the intended and unintended methane releases related to the natural gas consumed in the region.

Valuation of Resilience and Flexibility

[Regional Technical Forum, Region]

Energy efficiency provides values to the power system not readily captured in today’s modeling. Two of important attributes are resiliency and flexibility. In these terms, resiliency is focused on home and building resilience. For example, some energy efficiency measures provide the ability to ride-through extended power outages or extreme weather events. Recent events, like the historic wildfires across the west and the Texas freeze, have demonstrated the importance for home and building resilience during extended outages. Energy efficiency can also support flexibility. While energy efficiency itself is not a flexible resource, there are many measures that support load management for grid flexibility, whether through integrated control or reducing the impacts on end-users from other load management efforts. For both these attributes of resiliency and flexibility, the Council considered proxy values in the cost-effectiveness valuation to highlight those beneficial measures. The Council recognizes that the need to improve this valuation for future efforts. The Council recommends that the Regional Technical Forum investigate methods for quantifying the value of flexibility and resiliency for energy efficiency measures. To ensure symmetric treatment of energy efficiency with other demand side and supply side resources, the Regional Technical Forum should work with other regional experts in development of these values.

Efficacy of Voltage Regulation

[Bonneville, NEEA, Regional Utilities, National Labs]

The Council recommends that Bonneville, the national labs, NEEA, and regional utilities study the impacts of voltage regulation under current conditions and explore how these results might change with future expected loads. Utilities can regulate the voltage along the distribution system as a way of changing total energy demand. Reducing the line voltage will reduce the resistive losses in the system, resulting in energy or peak demand savings. The efficacy of voltage regulation is determined by the amount of resistive load on the system. New technological advances and efficiency gains—for example compressor-based equipment replacing electric resistance technologies—have the potential to change the amount of savings from voltage regulation. Current data for voltage regulation effectiveness are based on older studies that do not represent the today’s technology mix, nor do they reflect future load sources such as electric vehicles. As the Council and regional utilities base estimates of energy efficiency (conservation voltage regulation or CVR) and demand response (demand voltage regulation or DVR) potential on these studies, updated research will provide more accurate estimates of potential. The analysis for this plan demonstrates the importance of this regulation, particularly DVR as a non-intrusive and regularly available demand response product, for addressing future power system needs.

Valuation of Non-Energy Based Emissions and Potential Regional Emissions Sinks or Offsets

[Region, National Labs, Universities, State Agencies]

This plan attempted to explore paths towards meeting various economy-wide decarbonization goals. While not in the direct purview of the Council, understanding non-energy sector emissions, and viable paths for reducing emissions, is important for understanding the interaction between the power sector and these other sources. The Council estimated rough targets in the Pathways to Decarbonization scenario to explore the tradeoffs between the power sector and other emissions sources in meeting economy wide emissions goals, but more data would improve future modeling. The Council recommends that the region—including national labs, universities, and state agencies—analyze emissions sources and sinks that may have implications for future power system planning. This data and analysis should be made available to regional stakeholders to support future analysis.

Improved Modeling

Adequacy Metrics for Power Systems with High Renewable Penetration

[Bonneville, Regional Utilities]

[Council Role: Active Participant]

The Council, and others in the region, have historically used the annual loss of load probability as a measure of power supply adequacy. The changing power system with more prominent seasonal issues requires the region rethink its assessment of adequacy. Specifically, the Council believes that a set of more detailed adequacy metrics is warranted. Therefore, the Council recommends that Bonneville and the region’s utilities investigate adequacy standards that capture the frequency, duration, and magnitude of potential shortfall events to better understand issues that occur in a system with high renewable generation penetration. The Council plans to support this effort, with a goal of incorporating improved metrics into future power planning.

Revisit Analytical Approaches to Planning for the Electric System

[Region, National Labs, Universities, Other Experts]

The models and analytical approaches used by the Council and the regional utilities for power planning reflect standard industry practice. These standard industry practices are based on a historic electric system that is different than our present-day electric grid. Further, we expect the present electric grid is on the cusp of substantial transformation which will diverge further from the electric system these models and approaches were designed to simulate. While the timing and extent of this transformation is unclear, the Council recommends the region, including national labs, universities, and other experts, research how effective the current generation of models are at forecasting or simulating system operation and at projecting the future drivers of the demand for electricity. This research should focus on production-cost models, load-forecasting models, and capacity-expansion models. 

Production-cost models, the computer programs most-often used to estimate electricity prices, use the marginal pricing theory from economics, which in the current electric system means electricity prices are largely forecast and formed based on what it costs to operate fossil-fuel-based generation. However, fossil-fuel-fired generation is being rapidly retired and will likely make up a smaller portion of the future electric system. With fewer fossil-fuel power plants in the system there will be fewer power plants ready to respond to market prices and more generators that have minimal or even negative operating costs, such as wind and solar plants. This shift in generation results in prices being more volatile, likely leading to inefficiencies in the market and possibly a breakdown in the economic theory on how electricity market prices are formed. This impacts the accuracy and efficacy of widely used production-cost models. Since forecasting future electricity prices is fundamental to the Council’s analysis, we recommend the next generation of production-cost models directly address this challenge.

In load-forecasting models, we have made progress toward incorporating climate change into our analysis, but would also encourage a broader regional conversation on methods that adapt our forecasts to a changing climate. We also see that future demand for electricity depends on the interaction of the electric system with purposes that have historically been served by other forms of energy, such as electric vehicles replacing those previously powered by gasoline. The interaction between the different forms of energy used in our region or in the broader Western electric grid could have wide-ranging impacts on our future power plans. In this plan, we have shown the range of potential future electric loads is extremely large depending on the extent of electrification of transportation and buildings that occurs. We recommend the next generation of load-forecasting models focus on improving estimates of these interactive effects.

Capacity-expansion models generally assume a static demand for electricity is met by adding differing types of generating technologies, while minimizing the capital cost and fixed and variable costs of operating the resulting system. The next generation of capacity-expansion models will likely need to assess trade-offs between different technologies on the demand-side, particularly hydrogen produced by electrolysis, an energy-intensive process. Also, in using models to test capacity expansion, it’s important to capture the impacts on the existing system from dynamically adjusting reserves and storage deployment for different generating technologies. Finally, capacity-expansion models are computationally intensive, therefore we recommend that future models focus on those questions that result in a meaningful difference, recognizing that these may be different questions than in the past.

The Council recommends that analysis of the current generation of models should both address these concerns and explore further implications of how transformation of the electric system will impact our ability to appropriately capture future risks and requirements for power planning.

[1] The System Integration Forum brings together multiple Council advisory committees to explore cross-cutting topics. The Forum on diversity, equity, and inclusion was held on February 19, 2021.