Peak Oil Optimist On California Electricity

Lynne Kiesling

Rob over at Peak Oil Optimist has a post with further ruminations on the prospects for electricity in California this summer in the context of the Pacific Northweste drought. Rob accurately points out something that I overlooked the other day, which is the vital role that transmission constraints will play in whether or not power from the new generation capacity that has come online will be able to get to end use customers.

All the more reason to emphasize the crucial role of active demand, demand response, retail choice, and interruptible contracts for maintaining reliable power delivery.

4 thoughts on “Peak Oil Optimist On California Electricity

  1. Well there has been some expansion of the transimssion system in the last year or so (IIRC). In fact, I think some work was done of path 15 which, if memory serves, was one of the big congestion points during the crisis.

  2. Steve,

    Yes, you are correct, and that’s one reason why the Bay Area is not facing as high a risk of outages as southern California is.

  3. My power-engineering senses are tingling…

    You say the Bay Area is not facing as high a risk of outages because its connection (Path 15) with the area that does have a higher risk of outages has been strengthened? For the Bay Area, this is more likely to be a hindrance than a help this time.

    The difference for the Bay Area this time is capacity. Northern California is projected to have about 18% summer reserves in the 1-in-10 case, while Southern California is projected to have maybe -1% in the 1-in-10 case. This is decidedly different from the situation in 2000-2001 (although I have no comparable reserve forecasts from spring of 2000).

    The worst period for Northern California during 2000-2001 was in winter, from about November 2000 through May of 2001. During that period it appears [from hourly generator dispatch data] that Path 15 was chronically constrained south-to-north, because virtually every available megawatt in NP15 was generating virtually around the clock. This is an extremely unusual and risky condition for a power system. Individual unit outage events in Northern California appear highly correlated with load interruptions during January 2001. At the same time, however, generators in Southern California were exhibiting more normal on-peak/off-peak dispatch behavior, indicating much less stress. The situation in Northern California was fortunately relieved by the addition of 1,000MW in Northern California [Sutter and Los Medanos] completed in June of 2001, even though dispatch levels remained fairly high almost until the end of that year. On Northern California’s system in 2001, 1000 megawatts was huge, but there has been more added since.

    This time it appears that summer may be an issue in Southern California, in which case it will draw power south from NP15 as well as east from AZ/NV. To the extent that north is flush while south is short in summer, Path 15 upgrades can be a boon to Southern California’s reliability, but only by allowing it to draw supplies out of Northern California.

  4. Hydropower is two of the principal reasons why the electricity situation in CA is still bordering on chaos.
    Reason 1: The shortage of hydropower reduces total electricity supply available to the market.
    Reason 2: When the drought is over, and cheap hydropower is available at near historically high levels, new ultraclean powerplants will have difficulty competing with cheap hydro in the market and will experience very few operating hours, threatening their financial viability. For this reason, powerplant construction to serve the CA market is not occurring fast enough to avoid future shortages.

    Perhaps some of the transmission geniuses from Enron, who created the appearance of congestion where there was none several years ago, could assist the ISO in creating the appearance of the free flow of adequate power where there is real congestion.

    Supply and demand will achieve balance when price is permitted to attract one and restrain the other; or, when the entire system is re-re-regulated.

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