Posted on Tuesday, July 03, 2012
Professor of Economics Tom Drennen and Joel Andruski '11 have developed the Power Systems Life Cycle Analysis Tool (Power LCAT) that allows quicker, more versatile analysis of energy production technologies. The overall goal of this high-level, dynamic model is to help policy makers and interested parties understand the economic and environmental tradeoffs associated with the various options for producing electricity. This was a Department of Energy-funded collaborative effort with researchers at the National Energy Technology Lab in Pittsburgh, Pa., and Sandia National Laboratories, where Drennen is a senior economist.
The Power LCAT calculates production costs and tracks environmental performance of a range of electricity generation technologies: natural gas combined cycle, integrated coal combined cycle, existing and supercritical pulverized coal, nuclear, and wind energy. An option for capturing and sequestering carbon dioxide emissions is also included for each of the fossil fuel technologies.
While numerous reports exist that estimate the costs of producing power from various electricity options, such as natural gas or solar, it is difficult to make comparisons between them as authors usually use different starting assumptions about financing costs, fuel costs, and plant construction time.
"And these assumptions make a big difference in estimated production costs," explains Drennen. "What's really unique about this tool is that it compares the technologies using consistent assumptions and it allows the user to then change any of the key assumptions and see how the changes affect the answers. For example, how do falling natural gas prices due to fracking affect electricity costs? (Significantly!)"
The other key feature of the model is that it tracks the environmental performance of the various options across the entire life cycle of the plant. When looking at the environmental impacts of coal-fired generation, one has to consider the costs and impacts of coal mining, coal processing, transport, and then electricity generation. Many estimates just consider the emissions from the plant.
"Policy makers, students, and stakeholders can use this tool to consider the entire life cycle of an energy technology, and truly understand what it's going to cost and what the environmental considerations are," says Drennen.
Andruski has worked on the model with Drennen for the past two years, starting as a summer research opportunity. He then used the research as the backbone of his Honors in Economics project which looked at risk in electricity pricing. For the past year, he was responsible for model coding and user interface development.
"Power LCAT has been the single most important project of my undergraduate and professional career. Developing Power LCAT with Professor Drennen has been an integral part of my undergraduate career in economics and environmental studies, and has also furthered my professional development in the energy economics field," Andruski explains. "Through this project I have added considerably to my skill set which has led me to my new job as an energy analyst at a reputable utility company in the Northeast. I chose HWS for the opportunity to work closely with highly respected faculty members. Through hard work and persistence, I was able to follow a passion, work alongside distinguished professionals in my field, and achieve one of my many lifetime goals - being published."
Since the model was announced by the Department of Energy a little more than a week ago, its release has been posted on 4-trader.com and generationhub.com websites, and the Power LCAT tool was downloaded more than 100 times.
Power LCAT and the accompanying technical guide are available on NETL's Energy Analysis web page under "Models/Tools."
In the photo above, Professor Tom Drennen (right) works with Joel Andruski'11 in his Stern Hall office.