Monthly wholesale electricity prices and demand in New England, January 2020
Real-time electricity lowest of any January
Average wholesale power prices in January 2020 were down 49.1% in the Real-Time Energy Market when compared to the previous year, falling to $26.22 per megawatt-hour (MWh)*, the lowest January price since the launch of the current market structure in March 2003. Prices were down by 53.4% in the Day-Ahead Energy Market when compared to January 2019, averaging $26.45/MWh.
Drivers of wholesale electricity prices
In general, the two main drivers of wholesale electricity prices in New England are the cost of fuel used to produce electricity and consumer demand.
Power plant fuel: Fuel is typically one of the major input costs in producing electricity. Natural gas is the predominant fuel in New England, used to generate 49% of the power produced in 2019 by New England’s power plants, and natural gas-fired power plants usually set the price of wholesale electricity in the region. As a result, average wholesale electricity prices are closely linked to natural gas prices.
The average natural gas price during January was $2.87 per million British thermal units (MMBtu)**. The price fell 58.6% from the January 2019 average Massachusetts natural gas index price of $6.94/MMBtu. The Mass. index price is a volume-weighted average of trades at four natural gas delivery points in Massachusetts, including two Algonquin points, the Tennessee Gas Pipeline, and the Dracut Interconnect.
Electricity demand: Demand is driven primarily by weather, as well as economic factors. Energy usage during January declined 6.2% to 10,393 GWh from the 11,077 GWh used in January 2019. The average temperature during January was 33˚ Fahrenheit (F) in New England, up six degrees the previous January. The average dewpoint, a measure of humidity, was 22˚F in January, up seven degrees from January 2019. There were 977 heating degree days (HDD)*** during January, while the normal number of HDD in January is 1,189 in New England. In January 2019, there were 1,190 HDD.
Consumer demand for electricity for the month peaked on January 20 during the hour from 5 to 6 p.m., when the temperature in New England was 24°F and the dewpoint was -2°. Demand reached 18,076 MW, with 17 MW met through reductions by active demand resources****. The January 2020 peak was 13% lower than the January 2019 peak of 20,773 MW, set during the hour from 5 to 6 p.m. on January 21, when the temperature was 4°F and the dewpoint was -9°.
Peak demand is driven by weather, which drives the use of heating and air conditioning equipment. The all-time high winter peak was 22,818 MW, recorded during a cold snap in January 2004 when the temperature was -1°F and the dewpoint was -20°. The all-time peak demand in New England was 28,130 MW, recorded during an August 2006 heat wave, when the temperature was 94°F and the dewpoint was 74°. Air conditioning use is far more widespread than electric heating in New England, so weather tends to have a relatively greater impact on the summer peak than the winter peak.
Fuel mix: The mix of resources used in any given time period depends on price and availability, as well as supplemental resource commitments needed to ensure system stability. Natural gas-fired and nuclear generation produced about 78% of the 8,486 GWh of electric energy generated within New England during January, at about 49% and 29%, respectively. Renewable resources generated about 11% of the energy produced within New England, including 6.6% from wood, refuse, and landfill gas; 3.4% from wind; and 1% from solar resources. Coal- and oil-fired units produced approximately 0.6% combined of the energy generated within New England. Hydroelectric resources generated 10%. The region also received net imports of about 2,022 GWh of electricity from neighboring regions, and active demand response accounted for 1 GWh of reduced system demand.
|January 2020 and Percent Change from January 2019 and December 2019
||January 2020||Change from January 2019||Change from December 2019
|Average Natural Gas Price
|Peak Demand||18,076 MW||-13%||-5%|
|Total Electricity Use||10,393 GWh||-6.2%||-2.4%|
|Weather-Normalized Use*****||10,802 GWh||-1.7%||+1.7%|
*One megawatt (MW) of electricity can serve about 750 to 1,000 average homes in New England. A megawatt-hour (MWh) of electricity can serve about 750 to 1,000 homes for one hour. One gigawatt-hour (GWh) can serve about 750,000 to 1 million homes for one hour. **A British thermal unit (Btu) is used to describe the heat value of fuels, providing a uniform standard for comparing different fuels. One million British thermal units are shown as MMBtu. ***A degree day is a measure of heating or cooling. A zero degree day occurs when no heating or cooling is required; as temperatures drop, more heating days are recorded; when temperatures rise, more cooling days are recorded. The base point for measuring degree days is 65 degrees. Each degree of a day’s mean temperature that is above 65 degrees is counted as one cooling degree day, while each degree of a day’s mean temperature that is below 65 degrees is counted as one heating degree day. A day’s mean temperature of 90 degrees equals 25 cooling degree days, while a day’s mean temperature of 45 degrees equals 20 heating degree days. ****Since June 1, 2018, active demand-response resources have been able to participate on an hourly basis in the wholesale electricity markets. These resources reduce demand in real time.*****Weather-normalized demand indicates how much electricity would have been consumed if the weather had been the same as the average weather over the last 20 years.