How California is Integrating Renewable Energy Without Blowing a Fuse
When Thomas Edison flipped the switch on his coal-fired central power station in Manhattan back in 1882, its function was simple: move power in one direction, from the generator to the consumer. There was little diversity in this system and no regard for source energy efficiency or environmental consequence, save that machines could run and the night was illuminated. Little changed over the following century.
Function, it can be said, is the combination of operation and intent. Beginning in 2002, the California Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) made a significant change in the function of energy production, transmission, distribution and consumption when it mandated that investor-owner utilities, electric service providers and community choice aggregators must increase procurement from eligible renewable energy resources to 33 percent of total procurement by 2020 and 50 percent by 2030.
Having to integrate renewables such as solar and wind, with their inherent variability, into a system that hasn’t changed much since the Edison days has become a crucible for load balancing innovation, distribution efficiency and market design. And the form that “ever follows” is already beginning to shape a future of expanded opportunity in the energy market as it drives diversification, flexibility, profits and lower consumer prices.
The California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO), a nonprofit benefit corporation, is charged with maintaining the constant and reliable flow of electricity in 80 percent of the state. Put another way, CAISO must continually balance the supply and demand of a product that is produced, delivered and consumed at the speed of light in the most populated and third largest state in the U.S. Reliability and prediction are crucial.