Extreme Winter Weather Puts Strain on Power Systems, Lets Wind Energy Shine
The North American cold wave has wreaked havoc on energy systems this winter, plagued by natural gas shortages, rising peak power demand and power plants going offline due to extreme weather conditions. The displaced polar vortex, with its frigid temperatures and strong winds, has caused energy use to soar—creating supply shortages and rising energy costs. But wind power has performed well overall.
Natural Gas Shortages
Natural gas shortages are emerging across the country, brought on by unusually high natural gas use due to record cold temperatures, as many households use natural gas furnaces and boilers. The situation is compounded by freezing gas wells, slowed production and other infrastructure complications due to low temperatures and high winds. Natural gas inventories fell by 262 billion cubic feet two weeks ago, causing prices to rise. Stocks of natural gas are low, and winter is only half over.
"We’re seeing very high prices because of freeze-offs and storage concerns. Utilities are concerned because it’s been so cold that they are buying spot gas to make sure they have enough in storage to get through the withdrawal season," said Aaron Calder, market analyst with Gelber & Associates.
Peak Power Demand
Shortages are causing natural gas prices to rise, reaching a four-year high earlier this month but coming down slightly since. Electricity generators are asking customers to conserve power, which would require fewer natural gas power plants to come online. To compound the situation, California has been depending more on natural gas to generate electricity since the decommissioning of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Unfortunately, cold temperatures this winter have also caused electricity use to climb due to high heating demand.
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Women in snow image via Shutterstock.