But it will take some major breakthroughs in energy storage and grid regionalization. Plus, some crafty resource planning amid the rise of community-choice aggregation.
As 2017 comes to an end, California can boast that it’s making substantial progress toward reaching its ambitious renewable energy goals, which has renewed calls for the state to pass a 100 percent clean electricity target in 2018.
The California Public Utilities Commission recently released its annual renewables portfolio standard report showing that large investor-owned utilities have already executed the renewable electricity contracts necessary to exceed their 33 percent RPS requirement for 2020 — and are on track to meet the 2030 RPS requirement of 50 percent renewables a full 10 years early.
Building on this momentum, Governor Jerry Brown recently suggested that the state could achieve a 100 percent renewables energy mix before mid-century.
“We will be at 50 percent by the more restricted measures of renewable energy — that’s basically solar, geothermal, wind and some biofuel — probably in 2025,” he said, speaking at The New York Times’ ClimateTECH conference in San Francisco last month. Reaching “100 percent in 2040 is not out of the question at all.”
But is that target truly within reach?
“California’s energy policies are like driving a car with no seatbelt”
Setting aside the debate on whether or not 100 percent renewables is the optimal way to decarbonize the grid, there a number of very real challenges tied to executing on that goal that are worth addressing. For one thing, California’s investor-owned utilities may not be as close to their renewable energy goals as it may seem. Also, as Governor Brown pointed out in his talk, hitting 100 percent renewables hinges on two big unknowns: “It’ll depend on storage. It’ll depend on a regional grid,” he said.
Energy storage and regionalization are indeed major question marks. Without advancements on both fronts, California’s aspiration to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity could remain a pipe dream.
If the renewable energy transition isn’t managed well, it could create a disaster scenario, according to Gary Ackerman, executive director of the Western Power Trading Forum, a broad-based membership organization dedicated to encouraging competition in Western states’ electric markets.
“The ability to balance the grid, which is a moment-by-moment function of the grid operator, becomes more challenging as you add more renewable energy,” he said. “It’s undeniable you have to provide a certain frequency within a well-defined bandwidth. When renewable energy comes offline, hence the definition of a variable resource, it presents more challenges to people in the control center. “
There can be up to a 13,000-megawatt ramp in demand in California in the evenings, as solar generation falls off the system and people power up their homes after work, Ackerman pointed out. “You just need one transmission line to trip or generation station to go offline while making that ramp and everything becomes super-critical.”
“You might not see renewables as an issue until then, because people will say the lights haven’t gone out,” he added. “But that’s like saying, ‘I didn’t wear a seatbelt and I didn’t get in an accident.’ California’s energy policies are like driving a car with no seatbelt. You’re taking enormous risks that you won’t realize until it’s too late.”
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