Emissions from cycling of thermal power plants in electricity systems with high penetration of wind power: Life cycle assessment for Ireland
15 October 2014
18T13:14:33Z October 2016
The increase of renewable sources in the power sector is an important step towards more sustainable electricity production. However, introducing high shares of variable renewables, such as wind and solar, cause dispatchable power plants to vary their output to fulfill the remaining electrical demand. The environmental impacts related to potential future energy systems in Ireland for 2025 with high shares of wind power were evaluated using life cycle assessment (LCA), focusing on cycling emissions (due to part-load operation and start-ups) from dispatchable generators. Part-load operations significantly affect the average power plant efficiency, with all units seeing an average yearly efficiency noticeably less than optimal. In particular, load following units, on average, saw an 11% reduction. Given that production technologies are typically modeled assuming steady-state operation at full load, as part of LCA of electricity generation, the efficiency reduction would result in large underestimation of emissions, e.g. up to 65% for an oil power plant. Overall, cycling emissions accounted for less than 7% of lifecycle CO2, NOx and SO2 emissions in the five scenarios considered: while not overbalancing the benefits from increasing wind energy, cycling emissions are not negligible and should be systematically included (i.e. by using emission factors per unit of fuel input rather than per unit of power generated). As the ability to cycle is an additional service provided by a power plant, it is also recommended that only units with similar roles (load following, mid merit, or base load) should be compared. The results showed that cycling emissions increased with the installed wind capacity, but decreased with the addition of storage. The latter benefits can, however, only be obtained if base-load electricity production shifts to a cleaner source than coal. Finally, the present study indicates that, in terms of emission reductions, the priority for Ireland is to phase out coal-based power plants. While investing in new storage capacity reduces system operating costs at high wind penetrations and limits cycling, the emissions reductions are somewhat negated when coupled with base load coal.
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