The Pacific Northwest Utilities Conference Committee’s “Northwest Regional Forecast” released this week, tells the story of how the region’s electric utilities plan to keep the lights on over the coming decade.
The 2012 Forecast is a tale of steadily growing demand for electricity served by hydropower, energy efficiency, natural gas-fired generation and wind power.
Right now, the region uses roughly 22,000 megawatts of firm energy to meet annual demand and just over 38,000 megawatts to meet peak demand. And projections are for a steady but moderate rise over the next 10 years after taking into account what utilities expect to save through energy efficiency programs.
The peak demand, which refers to the highest spikes in usage, is a focus of this year’s needs analysis. PNUCC sees that peak demand continuing to occur in the winter, when lighting and heating loads are greatest. Yet, summer demand is escalating as well and utilities are watching it closely.
Peak demand is an important yardstick for measuring what will be required to keep the lights on in the future. While the region’s annual energy demand is being met, there are gaps to fill in the next decade to meet winter and summer peak loads, says PNUCC.
The forecast indicates that in the near term the region needs another 2,000 to 3,000 megawatts of firm resources capable of meeting the peaks. That means generators, like natural gas turbines, that utilities can call on at a moment’s notice.
Hydropower still dominates the region’s resource mix, providing much of the firm power needed as well as the flexibility to accommodate variable resources like wind.
Hydro, says the report, is critical to keeping the system stable and reliable. Utilities are relying heavily on demand-side management and offering a variety of programs to encourage efficiency.
Utilities also have additional natural gas and wind generation under construction or on the drawing board. Looking ahead, utilities have more than 6,500 MW of demand-side savings and generation planned to meet projected needs.
The full report is available at www.pnucc.org/system-planning/northwest-regional-forecast