A modern energy system for a changing climate
August 20, 2014

It's time for Northwest utilities to improve coordination of our region’s flexible generation through an Energy Imbalance Market (EIM). Working together, we can save ratepayer money, integrate more clean energy and help fight climate change.

A few weeks ago, representatives from the Department of Energy convened a conference in Portland, Oregon to hear from energy leaders across the Western states about the key strengths and weaknesses of our electric grid and energy system.  The conference was a result of a Presidential Memorandum earlier this year, which called for a comprehensive review of the nation’s energy supply in order to be better resilient in the face of a changing climate.

Climate change has a lot of implications for our electric and transmission system. For example, warmer winters mean less snow pack, resulting in lower river levels and thus less potential hydroelectric power in the future. Increasing wildfires threaten our homes and wildlife, but can also damage the transmission lines that are critical for keeping our lights on.

The good news is that there are some immediate changes we can make to improve the resiliency of the electric grid. Establishing an Energy Imbalance Market, or EIM, in the Northwest is one of the most important steps the region can take right now to make our energy system more resilient to the impacts of climate change and to help integrate the clean energy resources like wind and solar that will help to slow climate change itself.  It’s the “low-hanging fruit” of energy system improvements.

An EIM allows utilities to manage our electric grid more efficiently in real time and saves us money while improving grid reliability. Check out this video on the subject:

EIM’s were mentioned a few times during the Department of Energy’s conference as well, so it’s an idea that’s gaining some momentum and support.  In fact, most of the rest of the country outside of the Northwest has already made this improvement. The change is pretty straightforward: improve coordination of balancing reserves across utilities in the Northwest.

Balancing reserves may not sound exciting, but they are an important part of operating the grid and help keep the lights on. Using our existing reserves more efficiently across utilities increases grid reliability. An EIM would also save ratepayers money: reports from the Northwest Power Pool conservatively estimate cost savings of between $70 and $90 million per year. Beyond the reliability and cost savings, an EIM also makes it easier to integrate more renewable energy resources onto our electric grid.  And more renewable energy resources mean less polluting fossil fuels gunking up our air.

Of course, there are a lot of other changes that will need to be made to address climate change, but we can make some immediate changes today that will go a long ways towards preparing for the impacts of climate change and phasing out carbon emissions.  As a starting point to addressing climate change in the Northwest, we need our utility leaders to implement an EIM in the Northwest. 

Learn more over at Renewable Northwest

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Author Bio

Cameron Yourkowski

Senior Policy Manager, Renewable Northwest, Climate Solutions

Cameron’s work at Renewable Northwest focuses on increasing access to transmission for renewable energy resources and increasing the efficiency and capability of the transmission system to integrate variable energy resources. He is active in the policy and rate setting forums at BPA, FERC, NPCC, WGA, WECC and the state legislative and regulatory bodies. Prior to coming to Renewable Northwest in 2007, he worked for the Alaska State Legislature on energy and fisheries issues. Cameron holds a M.S. and B.A. in economics from Portland State University and the University of Montana, respectively.