California braces for power shortages in hot, dry summer

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California is likely to have an energy deficit equivalent to what is needed to power about 1.3 million homes when usage is at its peak during the hot, dry summer months, state officials said Friday.

Threats of drought, extreme heat and wildfires, as well as regulatory and supply chain issues hampering the solar industry will create challenges for power reliability this summer, officials said. They represented the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Energy Commission, and the California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid.

State models assume the state will have 1,700 megawatts less power than it needs during peak hours — usually in the early evening, when the sun sets — in the warmer months, when air conditioners are in full use.

One megawatt powers about 750 to 1,000 homes in California, according to the energy commission. In the most extreme circumstances, the shortfall could be much worse: 5,000 megawatts, or enough to power 3.75 million homes.

“The only thing we expect is to see new and surprising conditions, and we’re trying to be prepared for that,” said Alice Reynolds, chair of the California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates big companies like Pacific Gas & Electric.

Climate change is causing a megadrought in California, which this year was the driest January-March on record. Last summer, the state for the first time shut down hydroelectric power generation at the Oroville Dam because there was not enough water. It’s working again, but the outage cost the state 600 megawatts of power, officials said.

Large hydro projects generated nearly 14% of the state’s electricity in 2020, according to the system’s independent operator. Renewable energy sources, mainly solar, represented 34.5% and nuclear energy, 10%.

Amid expected deficits this summer, the state — and residents — have several tools to avoid blackouts. Power can be purchased from other states and residents can reduce their use during peak demand, but power outages are still possible in extreme situations, officials said. Reynolds urged people to consider reducing energy use by doing things like cooling their homes early in the day and turning off their air conditioners when the sun goes down.

In August 2020, amid extreme heat, the California Independent System Operator ordered utilities to temporarily cut power to hundreds of thousands of customers.

Mark Rothleder, senior vice president at the system’s operator, said the state would be more likely to experience blackouts again this year if the entire West has a heat wave at the same time. That would undermine California’s ability to buy surplus energy from other states. Wildfires could also hamper the state’s ability to keep power on, he said.

California is in the process of transitioning its grid from energy sources that emit greenhouse gases to carbon-free sources such as solar and wind. As former power plants prepare for retirement, including the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, the state has fewer energy options available. By 2025, the state will lose 6,000 megawatts of power due to planned power plant shutdowns.

Ana Matosantos, cabinet secretary to Governor Gavin Newsom, declined to share details on other actions the government might take to ensure reliability, only saying that Newsom is looking at a “variety of different actions.” Diablo Canyon opens beyond its planned 2025 closure.

Meanwhile, supply chain problems caused by the pandemic are decreasing the availability of equipment needed to support more solar power systems with batteries that can store the energy for use when the sun is not shining.

State officials also pointed to a US Commerce Department investigation into Southeast Asian solar panel imports as potentially deterring California’s move toward clean energy.

California has set a goal of getting 100% of its electricity from non-carbon sources by 2045, with some benchmarks along the way, including 60% by 2030. The state sometimes exceeds that goal, particularly during the day. The amount of energy coming from renewable sources varies depending on the time of day and year, as well as what is available.

Recently, the system operator said he hit a record of getting more than 99% of energy from non-carbon sources around 3pm, although that only lasted a few minutes.

Solar energy by far makes up the majority of renewable energy, although it peaks during the day and drops significantly at night when the sun goes down. The state is increasing battery storage so solar energy can continue to be used when it’s dark, but the state’s capacity is still significantly understaffed.

Pacific Gas & Electric, which serves about 16 million people in California, has added more battery storage since the 2020 power cuts and is working on programs to reduce the energy load during peak demand, the spokeswoman said. voice Lynsey Paolo in a statement. The company is conserving water in reservoirs it depends on for hydroelectric power and informing customers how they can reduce demand, she said. Her statement did not mention Diablo Canyon, which the dealership operates.

Southern California Edison, another major utility, is working to get more power, complete its own battery storage project and encourage customers to use less energy, said spokesman David Song.

“Southern California Edison understands how much our customers depend on reliable electricity that is safely supplied, especially during the summer months when customers rely on electrical services for air conditioners and fans during prolonged heat waves,” he said.

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