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Future Implications of Massachusetts's new Clean Peak Standard

Over the last decade, Massachusetts has established itself as a national leader in clean energy. With some of the most progressive incentive programs in the country, Massachusetts has shown a clear commitment to a cleaner energy future. Most recently, Massachusetts legislators proposed a $1.6 billion-dollar bill aimed toward implementing a ‘Clean Peak Standard’ in the Commonwealth. Although, the Clean Peak Standard is no longer in the environmental bill, it is presented in bill H1747). This Clean Peak Standard would force utilities to use clean energy sources at times of peak demand. This move would align Massachusetts with the likes of Arizona and California as the first states to implement clean peak standards. The following discussion addresses the challenges and opportunities addressed by the proposed Clean Peak Standard.

In recent years, technological advances and innovative policies have led to a dramatic increase in the adoption of renewable energy. In most cases, renewable energy sources serve not only to reduce the carbon footprint of the electrical grid, but also to diversify the grid’s source portfolio. Ideally, a grid which draws upon several reliable sources will be more resilient in times of grid strain. Unfortunately, Massachusetts has not seen such a linear relationship between renewable energy adoption and grid resilience as it has continued to on-board renewable projects. In fact, Massachusetts is beginning to see what is known in the renewable energy world as the “Duck Curve.”

Traditionally, solar arrays reach their peak production during midday, when exposure levels are the highest. Unfortunately, the excess energy produced by solar is out of sync with peak demand hours. As a result, when solar energy production drops, traditional sources of electricity are forced to rapidly increase their production.

Duck Curve

This trend is often referred to as “ramping” by many in the energy community. As you can see in the graphic above, the periods in which solar creates the greatest value also result in the most extensive ramping from traditional sources. Despite the midday benefits of distributed generation, this ‘ramping’ results in a variety of issues.

“That is not only when we pay the most for a lot of energy sources, but it’s also, in many cases, when we have some of the dirtiest sources that are available, simply because that’s all that’s there”, Governor Charlie Baker, Greentechmedia Articles (See the full article here). A ‘Clean Peak Standard’ would result in a greater percentage of renewable sources used during ramping and peak demand hours. In other words, flattening out the “duck curve".

Clean Peak Standard Ramping

In order to reduce “dirty” ramping, the grid must find a way to shift the use of renewable sources into the times of peak demand. The most obvious way to achieve this task: Storage. With the successful implementation of energy storage, the Massachusetts energy grid would distribute the excess renewable energy more evenly throughout the day. This shift would result in both decreased demand costs as well as “greener” generation distribution. While energy storage technology is still relatively new, a clean peak standard would effectively jump-start investment into a trans-formative technology capable of altering our nation’s energy grid.

As can be seen with the plummeting prices of PV technology, increased investment in energy storage sector could drive down overall costs, presenting an affordable remedy for the growing “duck curve”. In closing, a Massachusetts Clean Peak Standard would show clear, state-sponsored efforts toward creating a modernized, distributed-generation grid.

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