An added 5 Bcf/d of natural gas delivery capability at a cost of $2-15 billion could be needed as a backstop to the projected growth of renewable-based electric generation, according to a report released Wednesday by the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America (INGAA). ICF International completed the study for the Washington, DC-based INGAA Foundation.

A major assumption is that gas-fired generation is a "logical and low-cost" choice for backing up renewables. In the next 15 years, 105 GW of renewables are forecast to enter the market, 88 GW of which would be wind power. The firming load for gas to meet that level of new renewables equals 5 Bcf/d of added pipeline delivery capacity during the next 15 years, the report concluded.

Improved coordination in the energy sector and considerable investment will have to develop if increased gas-fired electric generation is going to back up intermittent wind and solar-generated power, said the report, "Firming Renewable Electric Power Generators: Opportunities and Challenges for Natural Gas Pipelines."

INGAA Foundation President Don Santa said the work for the foundation by ICF is the first of its kind to "drill down deeply" into the detail of what is going to be required in terms of infrastructure to firm up the widespread use of solar and wind. This carries implications for gas supply and infrastructure, Santa said.

INGAA's work particularly focuses on wind resources, and so far, there as been little formal analysis of this subject, the report said.

"A clear policy on how and by whom the increased costs are to be borne is necessary for the natural gas industry to have the appropriate incentives to invest in providing the services necessary to back up gas-fired generators," the report concluded. It pointed out that this means what is needed is not just more infrastructure, but also better management systems for operating it.

"There are many implications for the gas infrastructure associated with supporting firming services, all of which need to be considered thoroughly as intermittent generation continues to grow."

Key questions, according to the study, include: How great an increase in gas pipelines and other infrastructure will ultimately be needed? How does the industry and regulators make sure gas reliability can be maintained? How can the industry and regulators make sure generators sign up for adequate gas transportation service and Who will pay for all this?

Part of the report's nine conclusions state that the industry and regulators are ready to get the job done, but there needs to be more awareness and an ability to make key changes. Overall, the natural gas pipeline system in the United States has the "operational flexibility" to manage intermittency demands.

Gas transport services needed in the future to meet firming needs may include enhanced linepack, applications of new no-notice and gas storage services, increasing the number of nomination cycles, and reducing the length of those cycles, the report concluded.

Specifically, regulators were encouraged to adopt policies that address three areas: identify generation units providing firming service, provide cost recovery mechanisms for the generators, and support pipeline tariffs enabling full cost recovery. "Without such policies, there may be inadequate backup generation capacity and therefore risk to electric system reliability," the report said.

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