California Gov. Jerry Brown on April 12 signed legislation requiring the state’s utilities to obtain 33 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020. This is the most aggressive renewable portfolio standard (RPS) in the country. The previous California RPS mandated 20 percent by 2020.
To people who know little or nothing about how electricity flows through the transmission and distribution system and what’s involved in keeping the lights on, this sounds like a great idea. Many believe the percentage should be higher. To people who understand the ins and outs of electricity generation and delivery, however, it seems like a mammoth task–maybe impossible.
Major advancement in energy storage technology will be required to maintain reliable service with the heavy intermittent load that 33 percent renewable sources will introduce to the grid. Fortunately, utilities, technology companies and government are investing heavily in energy storage research and development. For example, the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) on April 15 signed a deal with Duke Energy and the Electric Power Research Institute to identify opportunities for testing and deploying ARPA-E-funded projects that will bolster the electric grid. One of the initiative’s main focuses is grid-scale energy storage.
Duke Energy committed to developing grid-scale energy storage some time ago. It announced in November 2009 plans to match a $22 million DOE grant to install large-scale batteries at its 153-MW Notrees wind farm in West Texas. A few weeks ago the utility announced it selected Austin-based Xtreme Power’s energy storage and power management system for the site.
DOE Secretary Steven Chu in April announced that up to $130 million from the ARPA-E will be made available to develop five new program areas that could spark critical breakthrough technologies. This includes $30 million to fund the Green Electricity Network Integration (GENI) project. Although this project is not an energy storage project, it is aimed at making the grid able to handle intermittent load better from renewable sources. Its main goal is to develop innovative grid-control software and high-voltage hardware.
A couple of articles in this issue discuss renewable energy and the grid. On page 36 Johan Enslin of Petra Solar writes of photovoltaic solar integration solutions. “Ram” Ramachandran of Dow Wire & Cable explains the importance of using high-quality cable in wind facilities to mitigate maintenance issues and help ensure grid reliability on page 22.
The industry is working on projects that should help California utilities deliver reliable electricity services as more renewable sources come online. Whether the needed technology breakthroughs will occur soon enough is unclear.
Cost could be the white elephant in the room. Even if the technology is available in time, it will not be cheap. Critics of the new law–including Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E), the state’s largest utility–predict the RPS will create much higher electricity rates for all consumers.
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, California took a lead role in deregulating the electricity market. Its lawmakers were sure competition among generating companies would lower electricity prices. It didn’t. At one point wholesale electricity prices increased 800 percent. In addition, the state experienced more than one large-scale blackout, and rolling blackouts were common. By 2002, both operating units of PG&E were under bankruptcy protection. Southern California Edison was nearly bankrupt. Some reports and studies say the botched deregulation attempt cost the state, its utilities and consumers between $40 billion and $45 billion.
California consumers haven’t forgotten this debacle, and I doubt they’ll understand if this latest cutting-edge energy legislation raises their rates.
Editor in chief
Dear Ms. Hansen,
I read your From the Editor column in March 2011 POWERGRID International with some interest. I was not surprised by your reaction to the negative comments received in response to Onell Soto’s article, but I also am not surprised by the negative comments. I am an energy professional, having worked as an engineer for a major utility for 18 years and as a consultant for 22 years, and I have many negative comments concerning the moves toward energy conservation and the smart grid.
First and foremost, the average individual energy consumer sees the move toward energy conservation as an attempt by utilities to save money at consumers’ expense. Most consumers remember the days when utilities were guaranteed a return on investment in return for supplying energy when and where needed in any quantity needed. They remember being encouraged to use energy to improve their lives. Now they are being asked to curtail their use of energy and to alter their lifestyles to make life easier for the utilities. Rather than doing dishes, washing clothes or using hot water at the customers’ convenience, these activities are to be shifted to the times most convenient to utilities.
The consumer sees no real economic benefit for himself or herself from energy conservation. In some cases, utilities note that they receive less income due to energy conservation and apply to their commissions for rate increases, leaving consumers to feel betrayed or played for fools.
The consumer also sees a growing intrusion into his or her personal life. Smart appliances can report to the utility when they are being used. Smart appliances can be controlled remotely be the utility. (One government study by the Department of Energy advocated mandatory remote control of consumer appliances to reduce the need for increased electrical generation.) In addition, a wealth of personal information can be inferred from the usage patterns of various appliances.
For more knowledgeable consumers, there is also the issue of energy security. In an age when computer hackers can compromise any network, steal information from almost any data base, and compromise industrial control systems, the smart grid appears to be a tempting target for the random computer hacker and for the organized cyber attack forces of hostile states and organizations.
The energy industry has not made its case to consumers and has, in my opinion, given short shrift to the issues inherent in the changes it proposes to impose on a skeptical public.
Mark W. Bailey, P.E.More PowerGrid International Issue Articles
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