Is California “Learning” to Avoid Outages During Peak Times? – Is it good?

Reposted from Climate Etc.

by Planning Engineer

The first week of September this year, California faced intermittent power outages due to Forecast Peak in 20 years. Residents are asked to cut back on their electricity usage and risk blackouts. Is this a new normal? Or can the threat of a power outage be avoided? The likely answer is that the risk of a complete outage can be greatly reduced, but given other priorities, reliability risk is the new normal.

How peak demand has been for California in recent history. The chart below shows the peaks recorded and expected values ​​in 2022 that sparked concern in early September.

The forecast peak conditions are 2.5% higher than the 20-year high and 2.9% higher than what was observed 5 years ago.

The idea that a system may be unprepared because it peaks a few percent higher in value than what was seen five years ago seemed strange to a planner 30 years ago. Many of us are used to peak demand growth averaging 8 to 10% a year or more. The peak demand shown above for California is pretty well limited. The most basic planning criterion is that the system must be able to survive the largest source and most critical transmission element loss during peak loads without loss of load and without severe voltage drop. Unsigned weights or system oscillations. Looking at the variation in load levels here, no particular challenge for planners is apparent. If “green” resources were able to replace traditional resources with small tweaks, we would not see the problems we are having.

Why is California challenged now and why may it continue to be challenged in the future? Mainly because the focus on green energy is increasing the proportion of “green” resources intermittently. “Green” resources are not as reliable as traditional rotating machinery as well whole system support. It is likely that these resources have been credited with providing more capacity than is guaranteed, and when the rubber hits the road, they do not perform as “expected”. Intermittent resources cause problems for both the transmitter and the load side. Intermittent solar on the residential side serves to reduce loads as seen by Cal ISO. When solar does not perform well, the available load that is not being replaced by solar on the residential side will increase with a decrease in solar on the supply side.

If California were more honest about the possibility of “green” disruption resource planning it would be enhanced. However, being honest about the possibilities of “green” resources will have consequences that some consider unacceptable. There has been a big push to make “green” options seem far more economical and capable than they really are so that they will be more competitive. Subsidizing “green” resources by traditional use occurs in several ways. In addition to crediting “green” resources to their creditworthiness, other grants include pass on the costs associated with such a supplement to others. Honesty makes the “green” dream much harder to sell. Assuming that “green” resources perform well, other investments in the grid will be saved. This sub-mode tends to limit the increase in costs incurred by these resources, but does so at the expense of reliability. This trade-off takes a while to see because we’ve built the grid to have a very high level of reliability at large.. In the short term, it looks like you’re getting a cleaner, more reliable system at a moderate cost increase. But as penetration increases, costs get higher and higher and reliability becomes much worse.

In 2015 I wrote here:

Greater penetration of renewable resources will limit the choices available to operators while increasing uncertainty around projected power generation patterns. To deal with that uncertainty, options are: 1) increase grid and infrastructure costs, 2) limit grid operational flexibility, 3) increase smart generation costs through backup power sources or 4) live with increased risk and degraded reliability. It is likely that all four are and will continue to occur to some extent as the penetration of discontinuous resources increases.

California policymakers have identified resource investments, resource allocation, and how and when to make grid improvements to improve reliability. Blaming inclement weather for concerns now seems like a complete possibility. I suspect that a careful and fair examination of weather data would cause the weather to cause such concerns, which is not unusual considering historical weather patterns. But if there really is something unusual about the weather driven by climate change, shouldn’t this be foreseen by those in charge? With California spending so much money on power systems based on climate change, it seems hard to believe it will not include such tentative changes in its planning model.

Will California learn to avoid peak hour blackouts? If reliability is a top concern, it won’t flare up again for a few years. California must be able to properly document the capacity of power sources and adjust them to expected weather to ensure an adequate supply of electricity. If other priorities preclude responsible steps to ensure reliability, those priorities, not the weather, should be blamed for the consequences. If California wants to continue as they have been, they should be honest and make statements such as the following:

This is the end of affordable, reliable electrical service as we have understood it for most of the past 50 years. We are choosing to use “green” technology to deal with the climate crisis. Keeping the level of trust in the past will greatly increase your costs. When we try to limit costs, this reduces your reliability. Then the power will not be there. We all helped each other.

Of course, once things are looked at honestly, it can lead to further changes. Ideally, the electrical system represents the best balance between economy, reliability and public responsibility. California has struck a balance skewed by false expectations that “green” resources cannot meet. Striking a balance that considers the true cost and credible impact of green resources will benefit California’s electricity users. It is hoped that as consumers, voters, policymakers, and others better understand the exact pros and cons of the choices made available, consumers will understand why reliability their poor performance or other better options will be made on their behalf by policymakers. Fair accounting for the performance of system resources will result in a better balance of economy, reliability, and cost.

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