Environmental Impacts of Energy Systems

The environmental impact of coal cycling due to high wind penetration

To accommodate high penetrations of wind generation, coal and natural gas plants must provide more load following capabilities, higher system-wide ramping rates are needed, and more frequent shut downs will occur to accommodate off-peak wind generation. Coal units were historically not designed to provide this flexibility and operating them in such a manner to integrate wind generation reduces the environmental benefit of wind power. This study quantifies the environmental impacts of coal unit cycling from high penetrations of wind. Cycling is defined as either operating at the plant at a partial load or performing complete shut downs and start ups. Ongoing research will help determine the magnitude of impacts under different grid mixes and system constraints.

Life cycle environmental impacts of grid-scale energy storage

This NSF Sustainable Energy Pathways project entitled “Non-Aqueous Redox Flow Battery Chemistries for Sustainable Energy Storage” is an interdisciplinary project spanning Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, and the School of Natural Resources & Environment. The main objectives include understanding the redox chemistry of selected non-aqueous electrolytes, defining the kinetics and mechanisms in redox flow battery applications, and determining the impact of the battery integration on the grid.  Our role in this research project is to assess the impact of grid integration of these batteries and to develop a robust sustainability assessment framework for grid-scale energy storage.

Energy systems analysis for policy design: Renewable Portfolio Standards and State Implementation Plans for CO2 mitigation from existing power plants

Two parallel research projects are examining the ability to tailor energy systems analysis and life cycle assessment methods to better inform environmental policy design.  Funded by the University of Michigan’s Energy Institute, the first research project will evaluate alternative policy designs for an updated Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) for Michigan.  The second project, funded by the Energy Foundation and 5 Lakes Energy, evaluates policy design options to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants.