Corey Lee Wilson
California Braces for More Rolling Blackouts
California is struggling this summer to deliver enough power for the first time in nearly two decades as a number of severe heat waves broiled the region, and officials warned of potentially more rolling blackouts if high temperatures persist. The 2020 rolling blackouts are the first to sweep California since 2001.
Both solar and wind power generation systems are unpredictable due to changing weather conditions, and battery energy storage systems are still in their deployment infancy to help solve this problem by supplying stored energy during the peak time-of-use period from 4 – 9 pm. electricity demand when solar energy production is no longer effective or available.
Without sufficient energy storage systems in place to assist and eventually replace the natural gas peaker plants located throughout California along with out-of-state energy source providers, the best that PG&E Corp., California’s largest utility, Edison International’s SCE, and Sempra Energy’s SDG&E can do is urge their customers to reduce power consumption and prepare for rolling blackouts.
The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which manages the state’s power grid, called for utilities to initiate rolling blackouts on Friday and Saturday evening, August 15 & 16, 2020, as demand outstripped supplies during the peak time-of-use period from 4 – 9 pm. Both orders were relatively short-lived, but the emergency measures exposed just how thin the grid’s margin for error has become.
Rolling Blackouts Are Different From Power Shut-Offs
PG&E said the outages affected about 220,000 customers each night and SCE and SDG&E each had fewer customers affected.
The rolling blackouts are different from the widespread power shut-offs that occurred in fall 2019 due to the strong winds associated with the fire season. The 2019 power shut-offs were initiated per California’s wildfire induced Utility Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) Program which PG&E and SCE each implemented when strong winds increase the risk of their power lines sparking wildfires.
Fire conditions this year were expected to be more severe than those seen in the more moderate 2019 season. Already, fires in 2020 have burned more than 94,500 acres compared with about 25,300 acres burned last year around the same time. With months left of the fire season, conditions may get worse as extreme heat leads to more evaporation, drying out vegetation, said Mr. Roth of the National Weather Service.
“It could theoretically set the stage for something worse,” he said. “The last thing you need is more fuel for the fire.”
More Large-Scale and Microgrid Renewable Energy Needed
California has spent much of the past two decades greening its power supply with large-scale renewable energy, which now supplies more than a third of the state’s typical energy needs. The state has almost eliminated coal-fired generation and has been reducing its reliance on natural gas and nuclear power in favor of solar farms and, to a lesser extent, wind power.
Severin Borenstein, a California Independent System Operator board member and energy economist at the Haas School of Business at the University of California, Berkeley, said the blackouts highlight the need for more large-scale batteries to store renewable energy and to deploy it when production is down, as well as larger investments in utility programs designed to encourage customers to conserve energy when necessary.
“As we transition off of fossil fuels, we need to be very realistic about what we’re capable of doing,” he said. “This should raise more focus on the really disappointing progress we’ve made on demand response.”
Nonetheless, per CLW Enterprises, there has been significant progress in energy storage systems (ESS) programs since 2018, and MicroNOC Inc’s energy savings program, along with four other PG&E approved ESS systems, are leading the way in energy storage in California.
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Article content provided by Katherine Blunt of The Wall Street Journal on August 16, 2020 and supplemented by Corey Lee Wilson.