Industrial load flexibility, the US power grid and ammonia


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A variable renewable power grid is a new technological regime that involves real time harvesting and low-cost availability of energy resources coupled with storage to meet additional needs. Decarbonization through electrification of end uses formerly met by combustion processes will be a concurrent trend. Taken together, these two changes may make flexibility on the demand side more valuable to the grid and to industrial users. Industry accounted for 26% of US power demand in 2021. Traditionally, industrial processes for producing ammonia and other basic materials have been optimized for a system based on fossil resources, where energy can be called upon according to needs. Large capital expenditures as well as safety considerations have favored plants running at steady state at close to their maximum capacity.

It is possible, however, that the renewable energy transition will offer opportunities to sectors that can operate in a more flexible manner. Innovations that make use of flexibility to enhance their business model to move forward, individuals and groups active in their development, use and regulation, together with institutions and infrastructures, can be considered as a technological innovation system (TIS). Beyond economic and technical factors on their own, the TIS is an important analysis framework for studying the development and diffusion of technologies. This work attempts to map the TIS of flexible industrial loads and their interaction with electric power in the US, with a particular focus on ammonia as a case study. We have conducted interviews with stakeholders involved in ammonia projects, working in system operators, trade groups, regulators and utilities. We assess to what extent a technological innovation system is functioning and document characteristics that allow industries to operate flexibly.