A balanced approach to cost-effective, sustainable power
April 26, 2023
Have you ever considered how handy it is to flip a switch or push a button and have instant conveniences?
It seems so simple; you get a little cold or hot, you bump your thermostat up or down; your family gets hungry, you grab food from your refrigerator and heat it up in the microwave or cook a meal on your stove; stressful day at work, you jump into a hot tub of water.
Electricity is one of those reliable and instant conveniences. More than that, it is necessary to support our daily lives and plays a vital role in powering our future (think electric vehicles, heat pumps, and smart home devices).
Trico takes our responsibility to deliver cost-effective and sustainable power to our Members very seriously. I’d like to use this month’s column to make the point that to accomplish cost-effective AND sustainable, it requires a balanced portfolio of renewable and non-renewable sources, at least for the near and medium term.
As many of you know, there are various methods of electricity generation.
Dispatchable resources include coal and natural gas, which are used to generate electricity by combustion (thermal power). Nuclear power can also be generated through nuclear fission using uranium, the heat of which raises the temperature of water and rotates a steam turbine.
Among renewable energies, sunlight is directly converted into electricity (photovoltaics), rotation energy by wind is converted into electricity (wind power), and rotating water wheels are turned by running water to generate (hydro).
Each technology has its strengths and weaknesses, and currently there is no single source of power that can solve Trico’s mission to be cost-effective AND sustainable all on its own. A quick review of the weaknesses of each technology shows that a diverse mix of resources is vital.
- Nuclear – Expensive, and hard to finance or site.
- Coal – Emits carbon and is difficult to adjust to changing load requirements.
- Wind and Solar – Intermittent, because the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine all hours of the day. Coupling these resources with battery storage helps, but given current technology 24/7 coverage with batteries is not cost effective or practical.
- Hydro – Subject to water availability and impactful on the environment.
- Natural Gas – Cost is subject to natural gas markets which can be volatile and emits carbon (although substantially less than coal).
So, what do we do?
It is Trico’s goal to reduce our carbon emissions by 50% by 2032. This will result in increased sustainability at a reasonable cost. We have committed to this goal because it serves our mission, not because of any regulatory requirement. We don’t dispute the importance of transitioning our generation mix over time, and our resource planning shows it can be done in a cost-effective manner. It may be counter-intuitive, but we are also including natural gas generation in our plans. Natural gas generation can ramp up at any time of the day to meet Members’ swings in power usage and to adjust to changing weather. This is necessary to help us meet your power requirements 24/7, 365.
Could we reduce our carbon emissions faster? It may be possible but is not practical. With current technology, the result would be increased costs and/or hours during the year in which power may not be available, and because of supply chain issues related to renewable generation equipment the facilities required might not even be able to be built by the time needed.
Which leads to the point of this column, in order to accomplish sustainability AND cost effectiveness, it requires a mix of multiple generation resources. That has been our strategy in the past and is our strategy moving forward, all to meet our Members’ evolving energy needs. We know you depend on us and it is our privilege to serve our Members and our community.