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Extreme weather challenges California grid as goal remains decarbonization


Solutions on the horizon for short-term problems

Challenge remains late afternoon demand after solar

Long-term target is decarbonization, 100% renewable

As extreme summer weather tests the California power grid, opportunities for reliability alongside deep decarbonization and achieving 100% renewable power remain, state regulators said June 16.

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California Senate Bill 100, which established the state's policy for 100% clean energy by 2045 and expanded the renewable portfolio standard to 60% renewables by 2030, was adopted three and a half years ago, and now 19 states plus the District of Columbia have plans or goals for 100% renewable, carbon-free or net-zero emissions.

"We should all remember California is the tip of the spear, and what we create here spreads around the world," David Hochschild, chair of the California Energy Commission, said during a fireside chat as part of the "Energy Innovation Virtual Tour: Low-Carbon Solutions for Increased Reliability" conference.

In 2020, electric vehicles became the top export for California, Hochschild noted in pointing to the state as an incubator for clean energy.

The California Independent System Operator is a key player in making sure the state can achieve 100% clean energy, ISO board chair Angelina Galiteva said, adding that the ISO reached a clean energy record April 24 with renewables serving 94.5% of load for a short time, with 87% of that wind and solar.

"We can achieve 100% on green technologies," Galiteva said. "We should ... be able to do it for 24 hours, seven days a week, 365 days a year" and not just for a few minutes, like the record.


With heat waves, wildfires and droughts, the public has been called on to help conserve excess demand on the grid during peak hours via Flex Alerts. In 2020, customers responded and decreased demand by 4 GW, Galiteva said, adding that the question remains on how can that be monetized for customers to be more precise and lead to a diversified and decarbonized grid.

"We want to be able to island areas out, not only for safety if we have a wildfire, but also for reliability," Galiteva said.

While there are clean energy goals, the region also faces wildfires, drought and a weak hydro outlook.

"It's challenging, and it requires every one of us to come together to figure it out," said Siva Gunda, a commissioner with the California Energy Commission.

One factor is how to plan for the late afternoon, when solar energy ramps down but air conditioners are still running and putting demand on the grid, Gunda said, adding, "This is a really important planning area we are figuring out."

Cliff Rechtschaffen, a commissioner with the California Public Utilities Commission, pointed out the Root Cause Analysis, released in January by the California ISO, California Public Utilities Commission and California Energy Commission, said the 2020 rotating outages were not a result of increased renewables on the grid.

"One of the biggest lessons is how unpredictable fires are and the weather is," Rechtschaffen said.

In progress

This summer, there will be a 10-fold increase in battery storage based on a decision that occurred before the 2020 outages, Rechtschaffen said.

"We're not starting from scratch in response to what happened last summer," Rechtschaffen said. "In many ways these are good problems we're having. We're experiencing some of these challenges sooner because we've added renewables faster."

Advances in technology have allowed clean energy to come to fruition sooner than expected. It's a short-term problem, "but we know the solutions are on the horizon," Rechtschaffen said.

Galiteva agreed, adding that the power system is no longer just the generating systems and transmission lines, but now buildings and other technologies.

The long-term goal is deep decarbonization and 100% renewable energy that must be reliable, Galiteva said.