Tag Archives: Power Grid

California Has Too Much Solar Power — And That’s a Good Thing

By Travis Hoium, The Motley Fool

No business wants to create a solution in search of a problem, particularly in the slow-changing energy industry. Instead, businesses want to find solutions for problems that exist and create ways to make money off their solutions.

Enter the exigent problem California is facing: it has too much solar energy. First, who thought that would be a problem in the country’s largest state? Second, why isn’t there a solution if utilities and regulators knew this problem was coming? The short answer is that energy innovators weren’t going to create and install solutions for solar energy’s variability until they knew the utilities and regulators had recognized the problem.

California has made a big push into renewable energy in an effort to meet a 50% renewable energy goal by 2030. It’s built wind and solar plants rapidly over the past decade, which combines with hydropower to provide clean energy to the state. The problem is that solar energy, in particular, isn’t created evenly throughout the day or year and that’s a challenge for the grid.

In March, before peak air conditioner season in the state, there was so much solar energy on the grid that the California Independent System Operator had to tell some solar farms to shut down because there was too much energy for the grid to handle. And that could lead to a blackout.

Read full article from The Motley Fool

Utility-Scale Solar Surpasses Wind in California for First Time in 2015

Recent analysis from Vaisala, a global leader in environmental and industrial measurement, reveals that in 2015 energy from grid-connected, utility-scale solar plants surpassed wind for the first time in California. While this is an exciting milestone for the solar industry, the rise of solar also brings with it a demand for better forecasting information to cope with the challenges that the increase in variable generation poses to the regional energy system.

California has been a national leader in renewables since first establishing its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) in 2002, and, with a 50% RPS mandate recently signed into law, it is likely to maintain its position for years to come. Today the state is still one of the largest U.S. wind markets in terms of capacity, but the exponential growth of large-scale solar in recent years has considerably altered the structure of the regional energy market.

Public records from CAISO (California Independent System Operator) indicate that over the past five years, grid-connected, utility-scale solar generation in California increased fifteen-fold. It went from a total of 1,000 GWh in 2011 to an impressive 15,592 GWh in 2015, composing 6.7% of the system total and surpassing wind for the first time, which made up 5.3% of the system total.

Read full press release from Vaisala

How California Blackouts Will Make Solar and Batteries A National Story

By Bill Roth, Triple Pundit

California again faces potential blackouts. This time it is tied to a natural gas storage facility called Aliso Canyon owned by Sempra Energy’s Southern California Gas. The site’s ability to deliver energy was crippled by a natural gas leak described as an ecological disaster comparable to the BP oil rig explosion. State officials worry that this key facility will not be able to deliver sufficient supplies to California’s natural gas generating plants during summer peak electricity demands.

Here’s how solar and distributed generation could become national news this summer. It is 7 p.m., and Los Angeles is blacked out. It’s the third day of a blistering heat wave made more intense by global warming. People cut back on their air conditioning in the first two days in response to public service announcements to “save the grid.” But on that third evening, it was still over a 100 degrees from the valley to the beaches. Everyone decided they had to get cooler. Collectively they only moved their thermostats back down just a couple of degrees. But that was enough. The increased draw of electricity overwhelmed the grid. It automatically shut down because it just could not produce and deliver any more electricity.

But across LA, there are customers with power. They have lights. Even more importantly, they have air conditioning. Customers flock to these businesses. Neighbors walk over to ask their solar-powered neighbor about how they still have electricity.

The press see a media opportunity. Camera crews show up in front of the homes and businesses that have electricity because of solar systems connected to batteries. They ask questions about cost and find that these customers are actually saving money too. Then the reporters turn to the camera and ask, “Could this be the next iPhone-like technology breakthrough that California creates for all of us?”

Read full article from Triple Pundit

Too Much Solar in California? Not If You Bottle It

By Lauren Sommer, KQED

The cost of solar power has plummeted in recent years, which has led to a renewable energy boom in California.

But there’s a big hang-up: solar energy doesn’t provide a 24-hour supply. When the sun sets, the power from solar farms drops off, just as California needs it most. That’s sparked new interest in technology that stores electricity. And the energy storage technology race is going far beyond your typical battery.

Solar Peaking

“Pretty much everyday, we hit peak output,” says Michael Wheeler, a vice president at Recurrent Energy in San Francisco, looking at a screen showing the solar farms his company manages. But earlier this spring, something happened that, at first, doesn’t seem to make sense.

It was the middle of the day, when one of the solar farms was cranking out electricity, and his company got a message. There was too much electricity on the grid. The electric grid managers were telling solar farms to shut down. “The project went from almost peak output to zero for about two hours,” he says.

This happens on sunny, spring days when there is plenty of solar power but Californians aren’t using a lot of air conditioning yet, so demand for power is low. The solar and wind power comes in on top of what natural gas power plants are generating. Because renewable energy production goes up and down with passing clouds and wind conditions, grid operators say they need the continuous supply from natural gas to make up for those fluctuations.

Shutting down natural gas would leave the power supply less stable. Many gas plants can take between four and eight hours to restart, once they’re turned off. As more solar farms come online, the pressure to shut them down on mild, sunny days is only expected to become greater. California plans to get 50 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.

Read full article from KQED

Related article: What will California do with too much solar? (KQED) – April 4, 2016

Study: California could get 74% of power from rooftop solar

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

Rooftop solar panels could meet three-quarters of California’s electricity needs and about 40 percent of the country’s electricity needs, according to a new study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Researchers at the federally funded lab, which is based in Colorado, had estimated in 2008 that rooftop solar could generate 800 terawatt-hours of electricity per year, supplying about 21 percent of the country’s current electricity demand. Now they’ve upped their estimate to 39 percent, in an analysis sure to be embraced by clean-energy advocates who see solar power as critical to fighting climate change.

It’s unlikely the United States will tap all the sunlight at its disposal, at least not soon. The study focuses only on rooftop solar’s theoretical potential, without considering which systems would make financial sense for the owners of homes, businesses and other commercial buildings. Dramatically scaling up rooftop solar would also require big investments in the electric grid, which was built to accommodate large, centralized power plants.

The research lab was particularly bullish on California, which has a lot of sunlight, many large buildings and low per-person energy use. Researchers estimated that California could generate 74 percent of its electricity from rooftop solar — far more than any other state. The next-highest percentages came from the six states of New England, which get relatively little sunlight but don’t use much energy to begin with. Unsurprisingly, large, sunny states such as California, Texas and Florida have the greatest overall generation potential.

Read full article in the Desert Sun

 

California’s Distributed Energy Future

GTM Research has established itself as the premier source of information on solar industry trends and developments in the United States. It’s instructive that from that perspective, they chose to organize a conference focusing on a single state, California.

We who participate in the solar industry here have recognized the state as a leader, but the less patronizing among us also recognize that the magnitude of this lead is only temporary. If solar is to realize its potential as one means of reducing environmental damage while reducing future customer utility costs, then other parts of the United States need to catch up (and as GTM’s latest data for 2015 shows, they are).

Nonetheless, as GTM Research Senior Vice President Shayle Kann observed in his opening keynote at GTM’s California Distributed Energy Future conference in San Francisco, California remains the epicenter of next generation distributed energy (DE) regulation and is at the forefront of the shift toward distributed energy in the U.S. And (I would add) what happens in California doesn’t always stay in California. Hence the conference to examine California’s transition to a distributed energy future and consider what’s working and what isn’t.

The discussions at the conference covered a variety of issues confronting the state. Here is an overview of the key themes coming out of the discussions, and the insights shared by the different speakers:

The strongest and most frequently recurring theme was that of the interaction of Distributed Energy Resources (DERs, essentially distributed solar PV) and the electrical grid. This issue has numerous dimensions, and subsequent “fireside chats” helped highlight some of these.

Appropriately the first discussion was with a Senior Vice President from Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), California’s largest investor-owned utility (IOU) and the utility with more connected PV capacity than any other in the United States. Issues were fairly raised: e.g., how should rates be structured to fairly compensate the value of Grid access received by the customer, how does PG&E envision an environment of growing Community Choice Aggregation (CCA) systems and how is the Grid managed for reliability. Unfortunately, the moderator for this session let the PG&E representative off with the stock, PR answers: “we have to make changes in our rate structures”, “they can work, note how long Marin (Clean Energy, 2010) and Sonoma (Clean Power, 2014) have been in service”, and “we need to build in robustness.”

Ah well, at least subsequent chats returned to DER issues in more depth. DERs can lower costs for Grid operators / managers; experiments were cited by both Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) involving combinations of storage and DERs. Time of Use (TOU) pricing is coming, and 150 studies worldwide on this issue indicate that customers like this. But there is just too little experience with California’s residential customers while the customers themselves have too little information on which to make decisions as to costs versus savings.

Questions were also raised about Grid planning, to which respondents appeared to agree that too much is moving to identify a “right” strategy, especially as there isn’t even agreement on how to weigh technical issues such as reliability against other social goals we “should” be pursuing. The underlying complexity raised by these superficially straightforward questions was well-highlighted.

Michael Picker, President of the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) noted that despite all the issues the CPUC addresses, DE issues are of significant importance. CPUC needs to consider even the framework for its decision making processes going forward. A system designed to regulate railroads in the 1890’s may not provide the responsiveness and flexibility for regulating changes to utilities in a rapidly evolving technological, economic and social environment. The “adversarial” approach used in CPUC proceedings may not be the best approach—why is the current process more dependent on legal skills than on engineering skills? The desire is to move forward not too fast, not too slow in opening the market to competition while allowing utilities to remain viable business entities. These are issues that could keep one up at night.

Michael Picker (CPUC, left) and Shayle Kann (GTM, right) during their “Fireside Chat”

GTM California's Distributed Energy Future Conference

The second, albeit lesser, recurring theme I heard at the conference was that of CCA developments. Until this year, there have been only three of these organized in California: Marin (with subsequent geographic extensions) and Sonoma were cited above, and Lancaster Choice Energy was launched in 2015. San Francisco’s Clean Power SF, Silicon Valley Clean Energy and Peninsula Clean Energy (San Mateo County) are in the process of launching this year.

As Mark Ferron, CAISO Board of Governors, cited, in 5 years 60% of the state’s eligible population could potentially be served by CCA’s if all programs now in discussion came to completion in that time. He provided a link in later discussion which I repeat here for those who want to follow up on the tally he reported: climateprotection.tumblr.com/tagged/Community-Choice

CCA’s make solar available to those in multi-family dwellings or who own a home not situated with a solar-favorable orientation or location. Expansion of solar power to these customers is required if solar-based power is to expand. Yet as Michael Picker observed, CCA “forced collectivization is a coup against the traditional utility model, challenging utilities and eroding the role of the PUC.” We don’t know yet where this takes existing suppliers and industry participants.

The challenges of the new, evolving energy infrastructure are actively being addressed by the states of California and New York. Conferences such as this provide an excellent opportunity to reflect on the issues and the difficulty this transition poses for firms competing in the market, regulators and the state legislatures who will eventually need to rewrite the rules for structuring state energy markets.

A Sunny Future for Utility-Scale Solar

By John Finnigan, The Energy Collective

Utility-scale solar and distributed solar both have an important role to play in reducing greenhouse emissions, and both have made great strides in the past year.

Utility-scale solar, the focus of this article, is reaching “grid parity” (i.e., cost equivalency) with traditional generation in more areas across the country. And solar received a major boost when the federal tax incentive was recently extended through 2021. The amount of the incentive decreases over time, but the solar industry may be able to offset the lower tax incentive if costs continue to decline. New changes in policy and technology may further boost its prospects.

Some of the world’s largest solar plants came on-line in the U.S. during the past year, such as the 550-megawatt (MW) Topaz Solar plant in San Luis Obispo County, California and the 550MW Desert Sunlight plant in Desert Center, California. Last year saw a record increase in the amount of new utility-scale solar photovoltaic generation installed – about four gigawatts (GW), a whopping 38 percent increase over 2013, and enough solar power to supply electricity to 1.2 million homes. This number is expected to increase in 2015 when the final numbers are in.

Read complete article from The Energy Collective

At Paris climate talks, nations will look to California

By Sammy Roth, The Desert Sun

California has long led the world in tackling climate change. Now, Golden State leaders hope the rest of the world will follow their lead.

Negotiators from more than 190 countries will gather in Paris two weeks from Monday, in a last-ditch effort to strike a deal that averts catastrophic levels of global warming. Gov. Jerry Brown plans to lead a delegation of eight lawmakers, and they’ll be joined by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, billionaire climate activist Tom Steyer, and many other environmental advocates who want to see world leaders draw inspiration from California.

California isn’t a country, but for the purposes of Paris it might as well be. It’s the world’s eighth-largest economy, and the federal government often adopts the state’s ambitious environmental policies. Brown’s administration has worked with national and regional governments in Canada, Mexico, China and elsewhere on programs to slash carbon emissions. The governor has made it clear he wants California to play a prominent role in Paris. “The real source of climate action has to come from states and provinces,” Brown said earlier this year at a climate summit in Toronto. “This is a call to arms. We’re going to build up such a drumbeat that our national counterparts — they’re going to listen.”

When Brown and others arrive in Paris, they’ll have quite a story to tell. California now gets a quarter of its electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind, a figure expected to double by 2030. Californians use the same amount of energy today as they did in the 1970s, even as per-person energy use has spiked across most of the country. Policies to discourage gasoline consumption have led to cleaner fuels and helped put more than 150,000 electric vehicles on the road, a number that is growing quickly.

While California’s climate efforts are by no means perfect, world leaders can learn a lot from the state’s multi-pronged approach to global warming, policy and legal experts say. The key lesson, they say, is that the state has acted on climate without inflicting economic disaster. The state has outpaced the rest of the country in job growth and GDP growth since the height of the Great Recession, even as carbon pollution has fallen.

The Desert Sun interviewed nearly a dozen lawmakers, academics, activists and researchers about what California is doing to address climate change. Here’s a primer on what they think the nations of the world should — and shouldn’t — learn from the Golden State…[Read More]

Read full article in the Desert Sun

Energy Storage: Power Revolution

By Peter Fairley, Nature

It is 2025 and another sweltering summer’s day in California. Millions of solar panels are soaking up the Sun’s rays to power the air-conditioning systems that keep homes and offices throughout the state cool. The devices are working efficiently thanks to an intelligent conversation taking place between the appliances and the electrical grid. As clouds drift across the Sun, casting shadows, the air conditioners deftly increase or decrease their output in sync with the varying flow of solar energy. In areas where the demand for electricity looks as though it will overload the power-transmission lines, home air-conditioning units take it in turns to go offline for an hour. In other areas, where solar power threatens to exceed demand, hot-water heaters are turned on to absorb the extra energy.

This imagined future power grid demonstrates the same degree of flexibility that energy-storage advocates predict will occur with the widespread implementation of batteries, but there is no electrochemistry involved — software manipulates energy-consuming equipment so that most electricity is used when it is most abundant, cheap or green.

The concept is called ‘demand dispatch’, because it would activate and deactivate power demand — much as grid operators dynamically dispatch electricity generated by power plants today. In the future, power grids will probably use both the ‘virtual storage’ created by demand dispatch and the true energy storage from batteries. But demand dispatch could be the bigger player of the two, with smart use of existing appliances offering a smaller environmental footprint and slimmer price tag than batteries.

Read full article in Nature

The California ‘Duck Curve’ That Will Jolt Its Power Grid

By Jonathan Crawford, Bloomberg Business

When the sun starts to set in California, there’s one thing you can count on: thousands of megawatts of natural gas-fired power plants quickly firing up to keep the state lit.

It’s a daily phenomenon that will become more pronounced than ever this winter as California’s ambitious clean energy goals have boosted the state’s use of renewables. The surge in intermittent solar power will test the statewide electricity grid because it exacerbates the need for alternative sources such as gas outside of daylight hours. Regulators have warned it’ll make California more vulnerable to price spikes and power disruptions.

It works like this: As the day begins to wane in the Golden State, generation from solar panels drops off. That occurs just when consumers returning home from work turn on appliances and flip on lights, driving up electricity consumption. Other power supplies are needed to fill the gap and the need is more urgent in winter when days are shorter. The phenomenon known as the “duck curve” is so named for the resemblance of the demand slope to the profile of a water fowl. The California grid’s need to call on gas-fired plants to balance shifts in demand and supply shows the potential hazards of tying more renewable generation to power networks.

Read full article from Bloomberg Business