California’s Electricity Dreams Still Need Natural Gas
Already requiring 33% renewables by 2020 and 50% by 2030, California Governor Jerry Brown just signed SB 100, mandating that 100% of the state’s electricity comes from “carbon-free” sources by 2045, largely leaning on renewables like wind and solar. This truly is the Golden State’s energy challenge of a lifetime.
Renewables now account for almost 33% of California’s electricity And solar power will remain the heart of California’s clean energy push (particularly rooftop solar), with the state generating about 45% of all U.S. electricity that comes from that big bright yellow thing in the sky. Today, solar is over 12% of California’s electricity generation, versus just 2% back in 2013.
Yet, as overwhelmingly a natural gas- and oil-based state, the challenge put forth by California is an immense one. Even on the windiest and sunniest days, these renewables are intermittent, typically available only around 35% of the time. In literally a matter of minutes, winds can disappear or a cloud can block out the sun. For example, quite inconveniently, solar is naturally fading as an energy source when residents are returning home from work at 6 pm, right when electricity is used most.
It’s a constant chore for operators to balance these intermittent resources on the grid, so it’s clean and flexible natural gas that usually compensates during the lull times. Again, natural gas may come in third on the “loading order” of power behind efficiency and renewables, but gas is often deployed first because it’s the most predictable and reliable of the three. This necessity to use more gas to backup wind and solar is why California’s regulators have wisely forced troubled gas storage facility in the Los Angeles metro area to remain open despite public opposition.
Since the electricity crisis of 2000-2001, about 66% of new generation capacity in California has been natural gas, peaking plants to compensate for the ups and downs of renewables.
Too much wind and solar can arise unpredictably and overwhelm the grid – especially true in the shoulder seasons of spring and fall, when California’s air conditioners aren’t needed as much. Flooding the grid with too much power and not enough demand can ignite system failure, forcing operators to curtail renewable power. This “clean power” oversupply that can’t be utilized has become increasingly common and problematic for a state seeking to deploy renewables at all costs. “Negative Electricity Prices Are Not A Sign Of Renewable Success.”
The electricity created can be stored in batteries or other technologies and/or shared with neighboring states. A regional Western grid would be of great benefit for solving this problem, but California itself just dropped a bill to eliminate barriers between the 38 independent systems across the Western states. Ouch.
And although California has mandated that utilities install energy storage, the technologies aren’t developed enough to displace more reliable natural gas. Indeed, the “battery storage revolution” that has been promised to us has been “imminent” for not just decades, but really centuries. “Count Alessandro Volta, was the person who built the first electric battery. He showed it to Napoleon, who was the emperor at the year of 1800.”