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New England Burns Jet Fuel To Keep Lights On 230

First time accepted submitter inqrorken writes "During the recent cold snap, New England utilities turned to an unconventional fuel: jet fuel. Due to high demand for heating, natural gas supplies dropped and prices skyrocketed to $140/mmBtu and prompting the Mid-Atlantic RTO to call on demand response in the region. With 50% of installed generation capacity natural-gas fired, one utility took the step of running its jet fuel-based turbines for a record 15 hours."
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New England Burns Jet Fuel To Keep Lights On

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  • In other words... (Score:5, Informative)

    by MrLogic17 ( 233498 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @05:38PM (#46068523) Journal

    During peak load, the utility ran peaker plants. This isn't unusual.

    Now, running a high cost peaker for 15 hours, that's noteworthy.

  • Re:Jet Fuel? (Score:5, Informative)

    by crmanriq ( 63162 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @05:43PM (#46068557)

    From Wikipedia (ya, I know...) on "Jet Fuel"

    "Jet fuel is a clear to straw-colored fuel, based on either an unleaded kerosene (Jet A-1), or a naphtha-kerosene blend (Jet B). It is similar to diesel fuel, and can be used in either compression ignition engines or turbine engines. .... if it fails the purity and other quality tests for use on jet aircraft, it is sold to other ground-based users with less demanding requirements, like railroad engines."

    So still not much of an event, other than to say "ooh, wow. Jet Fuel."

  • Re:Invisible Hand (Score:5, Informative)

    by khallow ( 566160 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @05:43PM (#46068565)

    2. Why didn't the generators use the derivatives market to hedge against spikes in gas prices so they'd be able to keep buying as demand/price rose?

    I don't know. But this was allegedly predicted [] by analysts.

    A central challenge is that - especially in New England - most power generators do not contract for firm gas pipeline capacity under their unilateral control and instead rely on "if and as available" gas non-firm capacity, or, in some cases, capacity held by third parties. Pipeline capacity has routinely been added to meet the needs of gas customers who desire firm service and are willing to execute firm contracts for such service.

    The majority of gas-fired power generators in New England opt for non-firm gas transportation services. The generators have long observed that the electric market does not provide the proper incentives to encourage them to contract for firm transportation. NGA has encouraged the development of solutions to this power market dilemma, which causes uncertainty for the entire regional energy market.

    So apparently, pipeline capacity is built based on "firm capacity" contracts, but the peaking load generators don't have the incentives to purchase those contracts.

  • by zippthorne ( 748122 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @05:49PM (#46068599) Journal

    NE is violently opposed to building any energy infrastructure.

    For instance the Weaver's Cove LNG terminal proposal in Fall River, MA was ultimately shot down because regulators believed there wasn't enough demand for natural gas in NE, despite the region having one of the highest prices for natural gas in the country. Apparently price is not an indicator of demand.

    Fall River is also in the process of shutting down a coal power plant (which the local residents are apparently dancing with glee over, despite the two huge cooling towers they made them build recently) , which is presumed to be replaced by natural gas capacity elsewhere in the region.

  • Re:Jet Fuel? (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 25, 2014 @06:00PM (#46068655)

    No, they mean kerosene-gasoline blend, more commonly knows as jet fuel.

    Not exactly. While Jet B is a 70/30 blend, The more widely used Jet A/A-1 fuels are kerosene.

  • by Orne ( 144925 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @06:18PM (#46068755) Homepage

    Regional Transsmission Organization. After the deregulation of the bulk electric system, these companies are given the responsibility of monitoring high voltage transmission reliability. They commonly are also Independent Service Organizations, which operate regional wholesale electric markets.

  • Re:Jet Fuel? (Score:5, Informative)

    by icebike ( 68054 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @06:22PM (#46068783)

    You might be tempted to believe this was just the usual "Headline Hype" on the part of Forbes.

    However, in this case it was an appropriate use of the term since the units fired up were in fact combustion turbines, (jet engines turning turbines), also used on many Navy ships.

    As a consequence, the grid operators have resorted to some rather unusual steps. Energy Choice Matters reported today that ISO-New England asked Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH – a subsidiary of NorthEast Utilities) to operate its entire generation fleet this week to help keep the lights on. This included firing up several infrequently-deployed combustion turbines which ran on jet fuel.

    These are usually used as a source of last resort. They are usually avoided even for peaking demand. They are loud, suck fuel like crazy.
    They exist for precisely this type of emergency, fuel shortage, scheduled down time of gas fired plants, or any grid failure.

    In Alaska where I lived for 30 years, you saw exhaust from the turbines, you knew your next electric bill was going to hurt, because hydro and gas plants were down. You also knew that the LAST backup system was in use, so you stoked up the wood stove and turned off all unnecessary electrical load.

  • Re:Jet Fuel? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 25, 2014 @06:38PM (#46068925)

    suck fuel like crazy

    That's not even an understatement. At my utility we have three such units which would only be run on emergency, and we have fairly reasonable storage tanks on site, but once they start running it's only a matter of time before they run out, and tanker trucks can't unload fuel as fast as these things burn it.

  • by Mashiki ( 184564 ) <> on Saturday January 25, 2014 @06:39PM (#46068931) Homepage

    NE is violently opposed to building any energy infrastructure.

    Of course they are, they buy it all from Canada for less than what we pay for it at home. And about half the time the NE-US buys it at us from a loss on our side, you really don't *need* to build new power plants or generators---unless you want to supply on your own side. As it stands, you're getting a hell of a deal from us.

  • Re:Jet Fuel? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rotorbudd ( 1242864 ) on Saturday January 25, 2014 @06:54PM (#46069011)

    "No, they mean kerosene-gasoline blend, more commonly knows as jet fuel."

    Jet fuel has no gasoline in it.
    In fact most turbine aircraft engines are limited to just a few hours of operation with any amount of gasoline mixed into the fuel.
    After that you you get to overhaul the hot-end with the added bonus of tossing some very expensive turbine wheels of blades away

  • Re:Jet Fuel? (Score:5, Informative)

    by dbIII ( 701233 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @12:07AM (#46070631)
    They are the same thing as in the jets, but since a lot of them are pretty old (but low hours) they are back from when the fuel requirements were a bit lower. Also I suspect a lot of the requirements are related to safety in situations where you cannot park a fire truck on the wing instead of actual engine operating requirements.

    burning metric tons of kerosene in large turbine engines won't make for cheap electricity

    It's expensive as hell which is why these things are normally a fallback for unusual peak loads.

    Some jet engines used for power generation have been adapted to use different fuel sources, such as a little 20MW Avon jet that's running on coal seam gas in one project.

  • Re:Jet Fuel? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Runaway1956 ( 1322357 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @12:38AM (#46070781) Homepage Journal

    Great post - that little buzzword, "jet fuel" really doesn't mean what the uninformed think that it means.

    A couple points:
    There are various grades of jet fuel, and those various grades are suitable for a number of uses. Aboard ship, we burned JP4 in our boilers. JP5 would burn just as well, with less soot, but it was more expensive so we always specified JP4 in our fuel requirements.

    I've often read stories of aviation facilities rejecting fuel deliveries when it failed one test or other. That fuel is invariable accepted as a lower quality fuel, and used in less demanding aircraft, or used for power generation, or even used for diesel fuel.

    As for TFS, the reference to " an unconventional fuel" is completely off target. Following the links, one discovers that the generation plants have turbine powered generators ready to go online at a moment's notice. There is nothing "unconventional" about their use, other than the economic pressures which dictated their use. It is simply unusual for jet fuel to become more available and/or economical to use than natural gas. In short - the generation companies were ready at a moment's notice to fire up these jet fuel generators, which really are quite "conventional".

  • Peak load assets (Score:3, Informative)

    by prisoner-of-enigma ( 535770 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @10:48AM (#46072609) Homepage

    What *should* be scary but is being ignored by the larger public is how utilities are increasingly running "peak load" assets as if they were "base load" assets. To wit, combined-cycle turbine plants are not usually designed for continuous operation like this; they're designed to be brought online during peak load *only*. Base load assets like coal and nuclear carry the non-peak loads. The peak load assets are going to have much more intensive maintenance costs if they keep running them like this, leading to higher prices for consumers and the ugly potential for brownout/blackout when these peak load assets break down unexpectedly.

    Disclosure: I'm a tech consultant working with TVA right now, and this info comes direct from people who run these assets. We *need* more base load assets like coal and nuclear, but government regulations are making that extremely difficult. Indeed, we're having to *shut down* coal plants due to new government regulations, further stressing an already-fragile national power infrastructure. Thank god we're *finally* building some new nuclear assets (TVA's Watts Bar Unit 2, and Georgia Power's Plant Vogtle Units 3 and 4) but we need to be doing this on a much larger scale to meet growing demands for power. Conservation will only take you so far; at some point -- a point I think we passed some years ago -- you must expand capacity to keep your system fault-tolerant.

  • Re:Jet Fuel? (Score:5, Informative)

    by fnj ( 64210 ) on Sunday January 26, 2014 @01:00PM (#46073469)

    What is the primary difference between gasoline, and any diesel or kero fuel? Gasoline is explosive, whereas all of the heavier oil fuels burn instead of exploding. Just about the last thing that any operator of an oil based combustion engine wants, is an explosive fuel. Gasoline will readily destroy any of those engines in pretty short order.

    Complete and utter bullshit. Ever heard of detonation? An atomized near-stoichiometric gasoline-air mix, port-injected and then compressed in the cylinder, burns smoothly under proper conditions in a gasoline (spark ignition) engine, and detonates loudly and roughly when improper conditions are allowed to occur. In a diesel (compression ignition) engine, the fuel is SUPPOSED to burn promptly at the instant of injection. It CAN'T burn any more quickly than it is injected, and the injection is controlled. The precise profile of the burn is controlled by the profile of the injection. Modern diesels have several injection events (up to a dozen or so) spread out in time for each cylinder cycle. If you inject gasoline or kerosene instead of diesel fuel, it doesn't "explode" any more or less than when you inject diesel fuel. Or you can inject peanut oil.

    The reason pure gasoline or a high percentage of gasoline as fuel is destructive to modern diesel engines has everything to do with the extremely high pressure injection system and next to nothing to do with combustion. The injection pump and injectors are designed for the specific lubricity characteristics of diesel fuel. Change that to gasoline and you will quickly destroy thousands of dollars' worth of parts. Heck, even too high a percentage of biodiesel is destructive to modern designs. Usually anything over 5% bio will void the warranty.

    You (DISCLAIMER!) put either gasoline or diesel fuel in a (SMALL!) open container in a cool, well ventilated area, and try (CAREFULLY!) to light it with a match, and the first thing you may find is that it is difficult or impossible to light it that way. If you put a wick in it, you can light either one easily, and they BOTH burn completely controlled, just like an alcohol lamp. If you atomize any of them, gasoline, diesel fuel, or alcohol in air and light the mixture, they will ALL explode.

    Gasoline has a much lower flash point than the others. All that means is that a dangerous vapor can form around an open container if not adequately ventilated, and that vapor if ignited can explode. For gasoline, the flash point is far below room temperature, and actually below even very cold winter temperatures - excluding arctic circle and beyond at their very coldest.

    The autoignition temperature of gasoline (280 C) is actually a little HIGHER than #2 diesel fuel (256 C) and substantially higher than jet fuel (210 C) and kerosene (220 C), but the flash point is much LOWER than any of them.

    The state of the diesel art circa 1980 was much more forgiving. The owners manual not only allowed mixing up to 10% gasoline with the diesel fuel to prevent gelling, it specifically allowed for using a mixture of gasoline and fresh straight 10 weight motor oil as an alternative fuel when nothing else was available. They would also run just fine indefinitely on 100% biodiesel, or even a variety of unprocessed vegetable oils.

    Even my 1999 VW was run by me for a substantial period of time on both 20% biodiesel and straight 100% biodiesel with no ill effects whatever (although by that time anything over 5% was disclaimed by VW)

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