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Massive power shortfall is forecast for this evening (Monday)

Uploaded: Aug 17, 2020
You can also find an earlier post (Aug 14) and a wrap-up (Aug 20) on the outages.

CAISO leadership says that we are looking at up to a 4400 MW shortfall between 4-9pm tonight. That is about 3.3 million homes, or twice the size of the rolling blackouts in 2001, and much larger than either Friday or Saturday. (On Friday they requested that 1000 MW of demand be dropped, and 470 MW on Saturday.)

With so much publicity about the looming shortfall, they are seeing a somewhat better reduction in demand than they saw in the last few days, and are hopeful that the outage needed may be a little smaller. But it will still be massive.

The utilities will be deciding where the blackouts will occur. A typical rolling blackout period is one hour, but there is additional time needed to re-energize. So a typical outage will be around two hours.

Please, be prepared for an outage tonight. The most impacted period is projected to be around 7-8pm, but they anticipate blackouts may start as early as 4pm.

They are also forecasting a shortfall for tomorrow (Tuesday), but a smaller one (around 2300MW). It's not clear how much will happen in our cities. The CAISO spokesman said that load reductions are assigned in a pro rata manner to the utilities.

FWIW, this is mind-boggling to me. I listened to an hour-long Q&A with CAISO leadership, and there was no smoking gun, just a widespread heat event and the usual variability in renewables. If you are interested, you can see a slide presentation from CAISO this morning here. CAISO leadership said that to the extent we rely on imports to close the gap, we should attempt to secure them. They are working with the Public Utilities Commission on that.

They hope to install around 4GW of batteries in the next few years, and more beyond that. Grid-scale battery lead-time is apparently 12-18 months, though it depends on siting requirements. Batteries are not renewable, so I hope we can find cleaner alternatives as well. I also hope that we can get much more aggressive at encouraging flexible demand. It is by far the cheapest and cleanest option we have to balance the grid at times like this. For those who are curious, they said that historically Flex Alerts have led to a 400-500MW reduction in demand. I'm sure we can do better. I wish there were more focus on this.

Sorry for the non-blog-like posts, but I find this really surprising and, well, not good, not so much because of the impact on our cities, but because of what it says about the state's ability to plan and flex. We have to do better.
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Posted by Margaret Sanger, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 17, 2020 at 4:03 pm

Margaret Sanger is a registered user.

What a poorly governed state we have!

Wouldn't it be nice to be able turn to some nuclear power for our energy needs right about now?

But no! We're not allowed to have nice things.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a blogger,
on Aug 17, 2020 at 5:33 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Wow, look at this incredible reduction in demand. That is why blackouts haven't started yet! (The light blue line is what was forecast yesterday. The dark blue is what was forecast an hour preceding, and the green is what we actually saw.)

One thing that CAISO mentioned on the call is that the Governor's office was being very effective at helping to reduce load. You can see that here. The peak has been reduced by 10% or 5GW. That is enormous. Thank you to everyone who conserved.

Posted by Margaret Sanger, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 17, 2020 at 8:00 pm

Margaret Sanger is a registered user.

Fortunately, California is outlawing the use of natural gas and forcing everyone to switch to electricity.

You can't make this stuff up!

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a blogger,
on Aug 18, 2020 at 9:07 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

I hope this heat wave reminds people that it's more important than ever to electrify. California's energy policies are the future. They will also save us a lot of money. Just as we don't throw out democracy because the postal service is struggling, we don't throw out electrification because we can't handle a regional heat wave. We fix it. We just saw a demonstration of the incredible effect of flexible demand. Hopefully we learn from that and double down on it.

Posted by Margaret Sanger, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 18, 2020 at 9:44 am

Margaret Sanger is a registered user.

Post removed, off-topic.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a blogger,
on Aug 18, 2020 at 10:29 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

In the midst of outages, heatwaves, and pandemics, I want to share some of the really good news on progress we are making on addressing climate. For example, largely from Quartz's Race to Emissions newsletter:

Germany generated almost half its electricity from wind and solar in 2020.

Globally, 10% of global electricity generation came from those sources in the first half of the year, double the rate in 2015.

Seven of the largest oil and gas firms have written off $87 billion in fossil fuel assets so far in 2020. With demand for oil severely depressed, many reserves are unprofitable to extract.

The world’s biggest mining group BHP has confirmed plans to exit thermal coal due to pressure from investors to divest from fossil fuel.

The future is clean energy and electrification. I am super excited about that. We just need to make sure that this power is reliable, even as (and especially as) the planet gets warmer.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a blogger,
on Aug 18, 2020 at 11:12 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

Incidentally, here is what happened yesterday. This is just a fantastic reduction in demand. (Look at the difference between the light blue line, or day-ahead forecast, and the shaded area, or actual demand.)

We are setting up for some rolling outages today unless we can also reduce demand. Please do your part and minimize power use after 3pm and especially after 6pm. After today it starts to get a little cooler!

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a blogger,
on Aug 18, 2020 at 1:46 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

CAISO reports that there will be rolling outages beginning at 7pm tonight unless we again see good conservation. (Incidentally, the CAISO CEO says they are "deeply appreciative" of yesterday's response, and have never seen anything like it before.)

Today's situation is somewhat better than yesterday's, even though forecast demand is higher, because there are more imports available (it's not as hot in other western states).

FWIW, the sense I get is that the fact that we do state-by-state planning only, and not regional planning, has led to a gap when there are regional heat waves. So when other states retired many coal plants, it was fine for their planning, but it had the effect of reducing imports that we depend on sometimes. This is fixable. California needs to find a way to secure imports or rely on them less. In the meantime, there is clearly a good amount of opportunity to reduce demand at critical times. We'll see if we can do that again today. And while tomorrow is a bit cooler, it starts to warm up as early as Thursday in California. The question mark is what happens in the rest of the West.

To be continued...

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Aug 18, 2020 at 2:54 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

California needs to bring an enormous amount of carbon-free nuclear power online as soon as possible. France is the model.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a blogger,
on Aug 18, 2020 at 4:40 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Joseph: Oof, I don't want to be paying that electric bill...

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a blogger,
on Aug 19, 2020 at 10:52 am

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

FWIW, we avoided blackouts last night as well due to terrific conservation efforts. Thank you!!!

Hopefully that is the end of this. Hard to imagine windows closed from smoke, no power for cooling or fans, temps and tempers high from a heat wave, and masks on for the pandemic...

Posted by Margaret Sanger, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 19, 2020 at 11:14 am

Margaret Sanger is a registered user.

Post removed.

Posted by Margaret Sanger, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown,
on Aug 19, 2020 at 1:42 pm

Margaret Sanger is a registered user.

Thoughtful article in today's Wall Street Journal: “California's Blackouts Are a Warning for States Ramping Up Green Power"

Web Link

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Aug 19, 2020 at 3:02 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

Average residential rates in France are 21 cents per kWH. I don't think that's much different from what we pay here.

Posted by Staying Young Through Kids, a resident of Old Palo Alto,
on Aug 19, 2020 at 4:18 pm

Staying Young Through Kids is a registered user.

Can you explain your aversion to nuclear power?

Your "I don't want to pay that electric bill" comment has me thrown. The costs of building and operating any power facility are enormous.

I would argue that the cost of construction and the duration of service from a reactor are in line or better than that of other facilities. Otherwise large public power generation companies wouldn't want to build them! Sadly, Vogtle is the only site built in the US in a LONG time. And...even with the delays and cost overruns, Southern / Georgia Power will still produce lots of electricity and make lots of money from the site.

Availability of power from a reactor is certainly better suited for our consumption. Power is produced continually and can even be adjusted to meet predicted demand.

Don't misread me here, I am a HUGE fan of renewable energy and believe climate change is the only issue that matters globally right now. That said, demand driven production of electricity is something the currently popular renewables (solar and wind) just can't offer.

The addition of batteries or things like flywheel technology could help with a few days of increased demand. Of course, if everyone were back in their workplaces, even those would've failed this week.

In the near term, as we cross the Rubicon towards global calamity from climate change, the need to deal with radioactive fuel is the easier problem to solve.

One of our biggest challenges is in the US we want to toss used rods as waste (ugh!) while the European facilities recycle used material into new rods! Look to Sweden. They safely produce nearly half of their energy from nuclear power. With recycling, waste storage is far less of an issue.

And, in the meantime (while still moving to eliminate fossil fuels) we should learn to safely use what we have. There remain ways (currently very very expensive ways) to use carbon based fuels with less to no impact to our environment. Yes, this view is wildly unpopular with some folks, but we must work to reduce the impacts of carbon fuels while still allowing their use. Face it, our great great grandchildren will still live in a world where fossil fuels are being burned.

Those "less dirty / cleaner" technologies (oxidizers, electrostatics, scrubbers, catalytics, etc.) along with renewable energies, storage technology, and improved civil nuclear power deserve LOTS and LOTS of increased research funding and lots of government subsidy once in commercial use. Over any term these investments will be a lot cheaper than energy influenced wars and it will be a lot better for the planet.

So...PLEASE bring on the Green New Deal...just please allow it to embrace EVERY way (short term, medium term, or long lasting) we can meet our ever growing demands for electricity.

Always be moving toward safe and sustainable power only (why wouldn't we do that!?!?). But, like it or not, for the rest of our lifetimes our power needs will come from a blend of production methods.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a blogger,
on Aug 19, 2020 at 4:37 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@Margaret, thanks, that's a good writeup, and I agree with what the Rocky Mountain Institute guy says at the end. There's a more recent writeup here, which I forward because ZekeH usually knows what he's talking about. You will like the second-to-last paragraph, but also read the one above it (or, heck, the whole article!).

@Joseph, it's such a good question. New nuclear power is very expensive in the United States. Several new projects have been cancelled partway through because they realized they couldn't ever make up for the exceedingly high capital costs, despite relatively low operating costs, baseline power, and the long life of the plants. (Even France is also struggling some with costs.)

Why is it so expensive in the US? There are lots of reasons -- big/custom-design plants, insurance, financing, dwindling skilled workforce, etc. I don't think nuclear energy inherently has to be expensive, but it's fair to say we don't have an affordable option at this point.

This might be good reading on the topic. This has a lot of cost information in it.

Posted by Sherry Listgarten, a blogger,
on Aug 19, 2020 at 4:44 pm

Sherry Listgarten is a registered user.

@SYWK -- Sorry, my post overlapped. I agree with much of what you say, and I am not categorically opposed to nuclear. But right now new nuclear power is just not a good option in the US. My understanding is it's not even really the technology that's the issue, it's stuff like how we build it, contract it, and finance it (though the small/modular stuff is interesting). At this point, we've left it mostly to the private sector and academic institutions to revitalize the industry, but I'm not sure it can happen without very strong government support -- not for the innovation part but for the financing part.

Re your LOTS and LOTS list, I think the biggest gap is in negative emissions at scale. We are going to need vast amounts of that, and we don't have anything remotely workable afaict.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis, a resident of Woodside: Emerald Hills,
on Aug 19, 2020 at 6:35 pm

Joseph E. Davis is a registered user.

Sherry, I actually agree with you that the United States and particularly California is not capable of developing nuclear power in an affordable manner at this point, although other countries can. My personal diagnosis is that we have an exceedingly inefficient and often corrupt regulatory process. I believe other grandiose green initiatives such as the Green New Deal will bog down for similar reasons.

Before we will achieve anything meaningful along these lines, we will have to rediscover some regulators and politicians with domain knowledge and common sense (this may be a pipe dream.)

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