California forecast to break power demand record today

Mike Zaccardi, CFA, CMT

Much has been made of the power market situation in California during the last several days. Rolling blackouts and record-shattering heat have been the big narratives. But what is oddly not talked about quite as much is the elephant in the room – renewable generation’s near-disappearance during periods of peak demand.

Monday evening in CAISO, solar and wind represented about 11% of total generation to meet demand in the RTO. That is quite measly compared to the 40%, 50%+ renewable penetration readings that can be seen during low-demand periods of March, April, May, and during parts of the autumn. When it really matters, solar and wind are not enough. The long-term solution will of course be batteries. But in the near-term rolling blackouts are the apparent answer. Like it or not.

Today, the California ISO is forecast to set a new all-time peak demand record of 50.5GW, besting the prior record of 50.27GW that was made way back on July 24, 2006. Interestingly there were no blackouts 14 years ago since there was more generation collectively from natural gas, coal, and nuclear. The last time CAISO issued rolling blackouts (sans last year’s extreme fire risk) was 2001.

I can’t blame it all on renewables – this truly is an unusually hot period. Death Valley, CA hit 132 degrees earlier this week – the hottest temperature in more than 100 years. Areas just north of downtown Los Angeles experienced soaring temps above 110 degrees. And the heat is generally expected to persist through the end of the month.

This kind of test was always going to happen as the grid transitions from fossil-fuel generation to renewable/variable resources. Battery storage technology is on the way, and will help ease events like this going forward.

Meanwhile, there are other risks on our doorstep. Two tropical threats may come about next week. It’s been a remarkable stretch. Two weeks ago, Isaias devastated parts of the Mid-Atlantic & Northeast, last week the Midwest Derecho wreaked havoc on Iowa and Illinois, this week California is dealing with rolling blackouts, and next week there may be legitimate tropical threats to the US gulf coast and/or Southeast.

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Image source: CAISO