NETL Study Highlights the Importance of Coal for Power Generation During “Bomb Cyclone” Power Demands

The continued retirement of coal-fired generating plants could have an adverse effect on grid stability during bomb cyclones and other severe weather events, an analysis put out by the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory.

During the bomb cyclone event that froze much of the eastern United States between December 27 of last year and January 8, coal was shown to be the most resilient form of power generation.

The study covered six ISOs affected by the bomb cyclone and concluded coal had the most resilient form of generation due to available reserve capacity and on-site fuel availability.

During the event, 69 percent of generation came from coal and natural gas, with an additional 20 percent coming from nuclear reactors. Natural gas generation did not add resilient capacity in three of the ISOs studied due to a surge in heating demand and pipeline congestion.

Wind energy production fell by 12 percent due to a typical winter day. The study did not indicate any other widespread decline in power production.

The report concluded that during the worst of the storm on January 5-6, “U.S. electricity market experience demonstrated that without the resilience of coal plants—its ability to add 24-hour baseload capacity—the eastern United States would have suffered severe electricity shortages, likely leading to widespread blackouts.”