Bioenergy, DER, Geothermal, Hydropower, Storage, Wind Power

Fantasy Energy League Draft follow-up: breaking down the first round

In late 2018, I put out the call to see how many fellow energy nerds I could gather to indulge me in combining my passion for energy analysis and clean power policy with my love of fantasy sports. By the end of January 2019, I had my cast of characters who somehow thought this idea was as fun as I did (isn’t the Internet the greatest tool for finding people who share your interests?) and I released my Draft Preview. Coordinating this draft among 14 different teams with different time zones and schedules chock-full of actually helping to save the planet proved no easy task, but by the end of March we had conducted 5 rounds of picks for a total of 70 selections in this Inaugural Fantasy Energy League!

If you follow me on Twitter, or any of the participants who joined me in spreading the word (and the trash talk) via the #FantasyEnergyLeague hashtag, you’ve already seen the results posted, but I still owed the league and our curious onlookers a review of the results and a teaser of what’s to come. After a brief hiatus amid me moving to a new state and some career developments, I’m here now to deliver a mid-summer recap of the draft and preview how the rest will play out!

Background

The best way to catch up on the premise and the rules is to read the draft preview article, but in short:

  • Each participating team will assemble a roster of five state/sector combinations with the goal of acquiring selections that will see the greatest decrease in overall carbon emissions from 2016 to 2017 (2017 data being released in October 2019)
  • Each state/sector combination can only be selected by one team
  • Each team must have a representative from each of the five sectors and cannot have two selections from the same state
  • The selection for each team that sees the greatest percentage drop in emissions from one year to the next will represent that team’s wildcard percentage factor that will inflate their final score (e.g., a wildcard percentage factor of 30% will be a multiplier to increase the final emissions reductions achieved by that same 30%)

The logical question to these rules is not necessarily to ask more clarification on how this will work, but why? Why are over a dozen very busy energy professionals taking their free time to work on this exercise? Well, what unites all those participating is a passion to work on this problem of carbon emissions. Be it through technology, markets, politics, or other means, this group is all dedicated towards enacting a clean energy transition that can prevent the worst effects of climate change. So, by approaching this very serious issue through the game-ified lens of fantasy sports, it opens up new ways to think about the problem and spread awareness. I’m thankful to all the teams who participated in the draft, and to read up on who those participants are refer to the draft preview.

And without further ado, let’s run through how the first round of this draft went!

Round One Review

In the fantasy sports world, the value of the first-round picks is so high that you must not waste them. Having your first choice is a clear advantage, and the picks from Fantasy Energy League members in Round 1 illuminate their priorities in thinking and which states and sectors they find should have had the greatest overall decrease in carbon emissions in 2017.

Given the importance of this round, let’s go pick by pick to figure out why certain selections may have been made and what strategies arise…

Note: I don’t have any inside information for why these teams made these picks, and as simply commissioner rather than participant they clearly did more research than I did. I expect there will be many reasons for their picks that I don’t note in my review, so don’t consider my words to be anything more than a typical fantasy commentator that typically gets proven wrong by season’s end.

Pick 1.1 from New Energy Equity: Illinois Electric Power Sector

First overall picks are coveted, but they are by no means sure things. For every LeBron James and Peyton Manning there’s a Greg Oden and Jamarcus Russell, so New Energy Equity must be sure to use this pick wisely. As the first ever pick in a Fantasy Energy League Draft, they confidently select Illinois Electric Power Sector. At first glance, there’s a lot to like about this pick. Illinois can boast: leading the nation in nuclear power generation, which accounts for a majority of its electricity; a declining coal power sector that’s being fast replaced by natural gas; an all-time high of natural gas generation in 2016 that has since diminished slightly; a strong wind energy sector; and a clean energy arrangement that allows Illinois to export one-fifth of its total generation to other states (which still counts towards the Illinois generation numbers). But the question to ask– will the year-over-year numbers from 2016 to 2017 spell success? The only retirements that occurred in 2016 or 2017 in Illinois electric utilities were 12 megawatts (MW) of petroleum liquids, according to the Electric Generator Inventory from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). However, the genius of this pick might be the deregulated market. When looking at independent power producers in this data set, over 1,100 MW of coal were closed in mid- to late-2016 while customers were free to continue to choose cleaner energy from the deregulated market. Given the focus on climate change and renewable energy, perhaps betting on the customers themselves to move the needle will be a game-changing pick.

illinois energy use transmission grid fantasy energy league

Photo Source: Chicago Tonight

Pick 1.2 from ELECTRIFIED Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: Pennsylvania Industrial Sector
Representing the only team to deviate from the electric power sector in the first half of round 1, I would have maybe expected this team to jump at the transportation sector rather than industrial given their name. But owning a top two pick in a draft is a heavy responsibility, and this group did their homework. The Industrial Sector of Pennsylvania is the highest consumer of energy in the state, as the economy is built on the back of energy-intensive industries like mining, steel manufacturing, chemical production, and agriculture. As a result, Pennsylvania’s Industrial Sector is the fourth largest consumer of energy among state industrial sectors, making this at least a partial play in that the greater the energy use in the sector the more of an opportunity there is to clean it up.  In particular, Pennsylvania is the nation’s second largest natural gas producer and overall the emissions intensity from the natural gas production industry is reported to be dropping continually and massively in the past decade. The Keystone State would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of this trend, and add to that the steel industry and other industrial stalwarts in Pennsylvania swapping out coal for natural gas at a faster rate than any other sector in the state and you have an intriguing, if unexpected, #2 overall pick.

Pick 1.3 from Rocky Mountain Institute Alabama Electric Power Sector
Alabama might be another state that doesn’t jump off the pages as the purveyor of clean power that the California-, New York-, Illinois-type states have been recently, but Rocky Mountain Institute recognizes that it’s not about which state has the most clean energy in 2017, but it’s about the state that made the most progress towards clean energy in 2017. According to the Electric Generator Inventory from EIA, Alabama retired five major coal-fired units in 2016. These five units, all from Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), totaled 1,350 MW of capacity and were shut down in April 2016, the second greatest amount of coal capacity retired for a state in 2016. Combine that with Alabama being the nation’s fourth largest generator of nuclear power, which produces about 25% of the state’s electricity needs, and the carbon-intensive generation has likely been replaced with carbon-neutral generation, making this a shrewd pick.

Pick 1.4 from CELI: Kentucky Electric Power Sector
Whereas pick 1.3 looked good by seeing the coal closures in 2016, CELI’s pick of Kentucky Electric Power Sector was the national leader in coal closures during 2017. Two coal-fired generators at the Paradise Plant, each at 704 MW of capacity, were closed in April of 2017. That timing means that CELI is looking to collect on eight full months of reduced coal production from the Kentucky utility sector, though Kentucky doesn’t have the nuclear fleet that Alabama does to fill in those gaps. Rather, the natural gas sector of Kentucky accounted for over 90% of the new capacity added in 2017. While it’s a shame from a climate and clean energy perspective that the massive coal closures weren’t replaced via a long-term renewable or carbon-neutral solution, CELI is banking that the year-over-year replacement will still provide great value for this top-four pick since natural gas emits about half of the CO2 of coal per unit of energy generated.

natural gas power generation plant fantasy energy league
Photo Source: Power Technology

Pick 1.5 from Electrowinning: Indiana Electric Power Sector
Another state that seems to benefit from the closing of coal plants during 2016, Indiana saw 12 coal-fired units shut down across 4 different power plants for a total of over 1,200 MW– the third most coal-fired capacity shuttered during 2016. Three-quarters of this capacity was closed during the first half of the year, while the largest unit at 387 MW of capacity was closed in December. That late closure of such a large coal-fired unit provides great opportunity for 2017 to see year-over-year emissions reductions. While Indiana still sees a great majority of its power still coming from coal, Electrowinning must have seen these coal closures and their replacement with natural gas recently doubling over a three-year period and 2017 production additions being 60% renewable energy and 40% natural gas. This is a value pick to keep your eye on!

Pick 1.6 from Emission Impossible III: Carbon Protocol: Pennsylvania Electric Power Sector
With Pennsylvania being the first state to have the Industrial Sector taken off the board earlier, this pick of their Electric Power Sector indicates a feeling that some great progress is being made across the state. Looking at ‘Total Electric Power Industry’ generation data from EIA, early indications suggest that Pennsylvania did indeed make noteworthy headway with a 7,000,000 MWh decrease in coal-generation being offset with a 4,000,000 MWh increase in natural gas generation. The renewable energy needle didn’t move any appreciable amount, but in a state trailing only Texas and Florida in total power generation just swapping from carbon-heavy coal to the so-called bridge fuel in natural gas can provide immense carbon reductions. This team seemed to suggest they thought the impossible mission was having PA’s power sector lasting to them all the way in pick number six, so we’ll see if that luck pays off for them in the end.

Note: This pick came after Emission Impossible attempted to select Kentucky Electric Power Sector, stating with confidence it “should have been the top draft pick for the year,” not realizing it had already been selected four picks earlier. As Emission Impossible was a pre-draft trash talker, the rest of the league appeared to relish in this error.

Pick 1.7 from Clarion Energy Women in Power: Indiana Industrial Sector
With Indiana’s power sector being taken just two picks earlier, Clarion Energy Women in Power reached to grab the state’s industrial sector. Looking also to see for coal usage to drop, this pick is bolstered by the fact that it trails only two other states in industrially-used coal power and that said coal consumption has declined nearly every year since 2005. That decrease in coal use in industry appears like it’s being slowly replaced with electricity (allowing for penetration of cleaner fuels powering the grid), as Indiana finds itself as a top-five state when it comes to electricity sales to the industrial sector. Will these facts be enough for the Clarion Energy Women in Power to take an early lead, or will they regret having to wait on their electric power sector?

indiana industrial plant energy use fantasy energy league
Photo Source: GE

Pick 1.8 from GridLab: Texas Electric Power Sector
Looking into this Texas Electric Power Sector pick, this selection appears to be less about the coal-fired generation retired (558 MW was good for fifth in the nation in 2016, but no capacity was retired in 2017), but rather it appears that this pick is the first one to dig into the strategy of ‘highest population and highest energy produced provides greatest opportunity for reductions.’ Texas produces more electricity than any other state, and even the states that are slow to the clean energy transition are still plodding along in the right direction and not building out massive amounts of new coal. Between Texas’s rapidly increasing its amount of utility-scale wind in the past decade, the presence of two nuclear power plants that provide 10% of the state’s power, and the growing amount of solar and natural gas, this pick looks to be all about the volume stats (not to mention the Texas power sector, like #1 pick Illinois, is deregulated). Let’s see how that works out..

Pick 1.9 from Good Wind Hunting: Michigan Electric Power Sector
Going back to EIA’s Electric Generator Inventory, Michigan was the state who closed the greatest amount of coal-fired capacity in 2016, totaling almost 1,500 MW. All of those closures took place in the first half of 2016, though, so will the 2016 to 2017 year-over-year difference in utility-sector emissions drop enough to make this pick worthwhile? That will surely depend on what replaced the coal– Good Wind Hunting must be banking that Michigan’s extensive hydroelectric sector and growing wind & solar sectors will be making up much of that gap rather than new natural gas.

Pick 1.10 from Powerhouse: Connecticut Electric Power Sector
To this point in the draft, Connecticut is the smallest state selected– both in size and in total power generation. Given that small size of the utility sector, Powerhouse must have some inside knowledge about how much cleaner the Connecticut utility sector got during 2017. Year-over-year data seems to show that coal generation and petroleum generation increased and nuclear generation and biomass generation decreased (both not great for this pick), but the total power demand in the Connecticut utility sector dropped about 5% in 2017. That fact could be what Powerhouse is going after, but because Connecticut is such a small state this translates to an overall generation decrease that’s outpaced by 15 other states. We’ll have to see where this one ends up when it all plays out.

connecticut electricity power energy fantasy energy league
Photo Source: Record-Journal

Pick 1.11 from Kiterocket Renewables: Texas Industrial Sector
Kiterocket Renewables is the third participant to dip into the industrial sector rather than the electric power sector in round 1. Texas also becomes the second state to have two sectors taken. As noted with the Texas Electric Power pick, this selection could be one that is rooted largely in volume. The Lone Star State sees its industrial sector, boosted by high energy uses like petroleum refining and chemical manufacturing, account for about half of all energy consumed in the state. Because of this industrial trend, Texas uses a lot of hydrocarbon gas liquids (HGL) in the industrial sector, and Texas industrial natural gas usage accounts for one-fifth of the nation’s total industrial sector natural gas consumption. But most importantly, early data suggests Texas’s industrial sector has decreased its coal usage from 2016 to 2017 by about 7%— which would equal significant emission reductions given the large scale of said sector. Will this team see a payoff from waiting on the more popular electric power sector until the second round?

Pick 1.12 from This CO2 Shall Pass: Ohio Electric Power Sector
With their first pick of the draft, This CO2 Shall Pass goes with the third electric power sector from a deregulated state in Ohio. This pick looks to be one that might be considered an early steal of the draft, as the Buckeye State saw the second greatest capacity of coal generation retire in 2017 all from the closure of the 610 MW J.M. Stuart coal-fired generator. Not only does that spell good news for this pick, but also noteworthy is the clean energy policy trends in Ohio: the state “has both an alternative energy portfolio standard (AEPS) and an energy efficiency portfolio standard (EEPS),” collectively pushing power generation to 12.5% renewable energy by the end of 2026 and instituting energy efficiency measures to reduce peak demand 7.75% by 2020 and cumulative energy savings of 22% by 2027. While those are forward-looking goals, This CO2 Shall Pass clearly feels they have reason to be optimistic the numbers for 2017 will show appreciable progress to those goals.

Pick 1.13 from Energy Innovation: Georgia Electric Power Sector
While Energy Innovation was integral to spreading the word and excitement about the Fantasy Energy League, they got saddled with a late first round pick by the random number generator. Looking to make the best of a non-ideal situation, they grabbed Georgia Electric Power Sector. Georgia is home to the only nuclear power construction project in the United States that’s actively being built, but that of course won’t help in the 2016 to 2017 time frame– so what does this pick have going for it? The state date from EIA shows that overall electric power sector production decreased over 4% year-over-year, with that decrease coming almost entirely from a 14% decrease in coal production. At the same time, the Georgia utility-scale solar sector ballooned from 881,000 MWh of generation in 2016 to almost 2,000,000 MWh in 2017. No doubt Energy Innovation is hoping the sun will shine on this late first-round pick (though the claws started to come out in trash talk at this point…)

Pick 1.14 from The Windy City: Ohio Industrial Power Sector
Rounding out the first ever round of the world’s only (to my knowledge) Fantasy Energy League, the unlucky last pick went to The Windy City– but rather than lean into a sector likely to be heavy in wind energy, they closed out round one by picking the Ohio Industrial Power Sector. Representing just the fourth to choose an Industrial Power Sector, this pick was also the second pick in the last three to choose Ohio. As noted in pick 1.10, leaders in Ohio are making strides to clean up the energy mix and fight climate change head-on, so The Windy City must feel that the industrial power sector will be feeling the effects of this trend. This conclusion tracks because Ohio, with its heavy industrial economy, is another where the industrial sector uses more energy than any other sector in the state. Indeed, early EIA data shows that the combined heat & power in the industrial sector of Ohio decreased by 80,000 MWh (11%) in 2017, with over 100,000 MWh (92%) in decrease coming from coal partially in favor of a 56,000 MWh (54%) increase in natural gas powering industry. As noted previously, while natural gas is itself a fossil fuel that emits greenhouse gases, the carbon-intensity of gas is about 50% that of coal. The Windy City might see the industrial wind a’blowing in his favor based on this data.

ohio green energy efficiency fantasy energy league
Photo Source: Department of Energy

Impressions from Round 1

In aggregate, it’s notable that 10 of the 14 teams took electric power sectors first, though that’s unsurprising given it’s not only such a massive part of overall energy consumption but also because it’s the area with the greatest variety of clean options. Renewable energy, nuclear power, switching from coal to gas, or energy efficiency measures can all create notable emissions reductions. The other four teams took industrial sectors, likely owing to the traditional energy intensity of these sectors that is quickly seeing natural gas being used in favor of the historical leader in coal.

Another noteworthy observation from Round 1 is that many of the states traditionally associated with progressive policies on clean energy– such as California, New York, and Massachusetts– are still left on the board. This fact may be surprising at first, until you realize that the participants are smartly looking past sectors who have long been clean energy leaders, but rather the states that are evolving towards clean energy now. The game is not to pick the fewest emissions, it’s to pick which states/sectors are making the greatest strides over this time period. Some of those greatest strides, then, will logically come from states that have traditionally lagged behind in progressing towards clean energy and have ground to make up.

Rest of the Draft

So that’s a recap of just Round 1, but likely the most important round for teams to find their most impactful players. Because 70 picks are a ton, this first article is just meant to highlight those important picks. Stay tuned in this space where you’ll see the rest of the draft review:

  • The next article will highlight Rounds 2 and 3, in less detail than in Round 1, taking a look at trends that emerge and getting more into the trash talk that took a hold during the draft process.
  • The last article will close out Rounds 4 and 5 in which teams start to throw darts, searching for the undiscovered gem who might lead to the greatest wildcard factor, and where I’ll post the final draft board along with each team’s starting emissions for 2016 data. This article will also preview how and when the results will be revealed!