Study: The energy storage and renewables revolution can create benefits for air quality and environmental justice –- if sited and deployed correctly


FOR RELEASE on JULY 7th, 2016


Contact: Daisy Pistey-Lyhne, Director of Communications PSE Healthy Energy, 415-745-1753


Study: The energy storage and renewables revolution can create benefits for air quality and environmental justice – if sited and deployed correctly


Oakland, CA (July 7, 2016) – Last week, the Obama administration announced an ambitious goal along with Mexico and Canada that 50% of all electricity generated in North America will come from clean sources. This follows on the heels of the White House's Summit on Scaling Renewable Energy and Storage with Smart Markets, held in mid-June. At that Summit, regulators, power companies, municipalities, and energy developers, along with 33 states, pledged to invest about $1 billion in deploying 1.3 GW of energy storage projects over the next 5 years. In light of these commitments, a new study published by PSE Healthy Energy brings an important new layer of analysis to the conversation, focusing on how best to realize the environmental and health benefits possible from this transition.


Though the federal government, states, utilities and public utility commissions across the country are planning to bolster the grid with additional emerging energy resources, such as wind, solar, battery storage and demand response, there is currently very little discussion about how best to locate and utilize these resources in order to maximize the social and environmental benefits from their usage. This new study from PSE Healthy Energy and UC Berkeley provides an innovative policy framework that proposes the incorporation of measurements of local air quality, and analysis of the existing socioeconomic and environmental health burden on nearby communities, into decisions are made to procure new peak demand grid technology or to dispatch energy.


Published in Energy Policy, the study is titled "A framework for siting and dispatch of emerging energy resources to realize environmental and health benefits: Case study on peaker power plant displacement". It can be found at this link:



This study focuses on the use of grid power plants that exist solely to meet infrequent peak energy demand. These "peaker plants" are often located in communities that already suffer from higher than average environmental health burdens from other polluting sources. In California in particular, these plants give off some of the highest rates of air pollution per MWh of generation compared to other sources. Furthermore, in some cases these plants actually operate more often on days when air quality is already judged to be "unhealthy" by the EPA. For certain peaker plants in California, the study finds over one-third of generation occurs on "spare the air" days -- when air quality exceeds federal standards for ozone or particulate matter concentrations.


The authors of the study – Dr. Elena Krieger, Dr. Joan Casey, and Dr. Seth Shonkoff – present a case study of California peaker plants, and highlight the environmental and air quality benefits of replacing these infrequently-used plants with emerging energy technologies. These could include demand response, on-site renewable generation, energy storage recharged with natural gas, and energy storage recharged with renewables, or with a combination of natural gas and renewables.


The study also presents policy recommendations for how energy commissions, air resource boards, and utilities can collaborate to use local climate and air quality data as a signal to dispatch energy from clean sources when air quality is projected to be at unhealthy levels. This approach is modeled after California's Bay Area Air Quality Management District's (BAAQMD) "Spare the Air" policy, where public advisories ask citizens to avoid driving or burning firewood if possible in order to avoid additional air pollution on poor air quality days. If grid operators can predict poor air quality around the time of peak demand, it could also follow a similar protocol for dispatching low- or non-emitting sources during that time. In other regions of the country where the most polluting electricity sources are coal plants or other non-peak generation, a different combination of technologies may be most useful to avoid these emissions at times of poor air quality.


Lead author Elena Krieger says, "This suggested framework takes into account data on the total emissions from an energy source, the rate and timing of expected emissions due to meeting consumer demand, and the location of an energy source in relation to nearby vulnerable communities in order to plan for siting and dispatch that will offset the emissions from electricity generation at times of poor air quality. Instead of using only economic signals to dispatch storage or demand response, environmental conditions should be considered to trigger their dispatch as well."


With storage and renewables gaining momentum, these timely findings from PSE Healthy Energy can help ensure that, in addition to maximizing the efficiency of the grid, deployment of these resources can result in environmental justice and health benefits for consumers and local residents near power plants. This framework is important for consideration in ongoing annual utility and utility commission energy technology procurement planning efforts, and can also be incorporated into state and federal long-term planning.




PSE Healthy Energy is a non-profit energy science and policy research institute dedicated to supplying evidence-based, scientific and technical information and resources on the public health, environmental and climate dimensions of energy production and use. Our work predominantly focuses on unconventional oil and gas development, renewable energy, and energy storage. No other interdisciplinary collaboration of physicians, scientists, and engineers exists to focus specifically on health and sustainability at the intersection of energy science and policy.




Press release available for download here.


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