California’s Grid Takes Two Big Steps To Add More Renewables And EVs

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California already leads the United States in most measures of the clean energy economy, but two new initiatives by the state’s grid operator could ensure the Golden State’s electricity system can handle far more renewables, electric vehicles, and power demand.

The California Independent System Operator (Cal-ISO) announced two plans last month to help it integrate EVs as grid balancing resources, increase demand response and energy efficiency to shave peak demand, and coordinate long-term grid reliability as more renewable power generation comes online.

Either of these initiatives by themselves would be big news for the clean tech industry, but taken together, they hint at the true potential of California to blaze a path toward a clean energy future.

California transmission lines
California transmission lines image via ShutterStock

Shave Consumer Power Demand To Boost Grid Reliability 

Cal-ISO started in mid-December by releasing the Demand Response and Energy Efficiency Roadmap, a blueprint intended to help “flatten” peak consumer electricity demand while enabling grid operators to better incorporate distributed generation and energy storage within three years.

The plan also takes a long-term approach toward replacing the retired San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, as well as the potential retirements of 6,000 megawatts of older coastal power plants at risk of closing starting in 2017 when regulations limiting ocean water to cool turbines take hold.

“Implementing new, more responsive resources on a system-wide scale using a market mechanism will further advance California’s clean energy goals,” said Heather Sanders, Cal-ISO’s Director of Regulator Affairs. “It could also replace or defer investments in more expensive energy infrastructure.”

Future California Peak Demand
Future California peak power demand graph via Cal-ISO

Four integrated pathways are necessary to boost the state’s reliance on energy efficiency and demand response, as well as distributed generation resources like microgrids and rooftop solar without threatening reliability, according to Cal-ISO:

  • Load reshaping: Using incentives to modify consumer power use, flatten peak demand, and better forecast demand instead of building new peaking generation capacity.
  • Resource sufficiency: Ensuring enough generation resources are available to be dispatched across the system to match demand trends.
  • Operations: Changing ISO policies to use generation resources more efficiently as well as developing new market policy to better value and expand demand response participation.
  • Monitoring: Provide benchmarks and mechanisms to monitor progress and ensure the plan accomplishes its goals on time.

EVs Help Strengthen The Grid Instead Of Crashing It

But in addition to reducing consumer power demand, Cal-ISO is also turning one of it’s biggest potential liabilities into a powerful energy storage tool – the surge of EVs expected to hit California’s roads (and grid) over the next decade.

The Vehicle-Grid Integration Roadmap aims to coordinate EV charging with grid conditions by creating tools for EV networks to better respond to market signals like charging when demand is low and pushing power back onto the grid when demand is high.

“Vehicle electrification presents an unprecedented opportunity, through charging strategies and aggregation, to contribute to the reliable management of the power grid without impacting consumer driving habits,” reads the report…At a minimum, managed or smart charging strategies are needed to ensure EVs do not increase peak load, requiring additional generation or capacity expansions.”

Turning EVs from a potential grid reliability risk into a resource is an important issue for the state. It’s home to the most EVs in America, and is targeting 1.5 million EVs by 2025 as part of a multi-state compact. California’s also home to the most renewable energy output of any state, so ensuring EVs integrate with the grid can alleviate concerns of “crashing” the grid when they’re all plugged in while expanding the market for renewable generation when it’s available.

California vehicle-grid integration
California vehicle-grid integration chart via Cal-ISO

Similar to the demand response/energy efficiency roadmap, Cal-ISO outlines three pathways to best integrate EVs onto the grid:

  • Determine vehicle-grid-integration value: Determining value of grid services like energy storage and distribution to EV owners, while estimating the total market potential for VGI services.
  • Establish policies and regulations: Defining how EVs can integrate with the wholesale and retail power markets as well as setting fair compensation for grid access to EVs.
  • Enable technology innovations: Supporting technologies to better manage EV integration like aggregation, grid-EV communication, and control over two-way power flow.

Can California Once Again Lead Us To A Clean Energy Future?

Perhaps most promising, however, is the fact that Cal-ISO isn’t just making these policy decisions in a vacuum. Both roadmaps were developed in concert with utilities, developers, and business interests to ensure they’re realistic.

And in addition to the two roadmaps, Cal-ISO recently approved a multi-year reliability planning process with the California Public Utilities Commission so the lights stay on as the state moves toward a 33% renewables by 2020 goal.

California is already the epicenter of America’s clean tech market, and it’s safe to say other states and grid operators look west when seeking best practices to reliably add clean energy resources. But the state has also been the location of one of the biggest energy market failures – Enron. By carefully assessing what’s needed to make the power system of tomorrow work, Cal-ISO may just be creating a roadmap for the rest of the U.S. to follow.

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8 thoughts on “California’s Grid Takes Two Big Steps To Add More Renewables And EVs

  • Although solar PV gets all the attention these days, concentrated solar power needs to keep growing because it has some storage ability that will help “feed the duck” by providing more power at the neck and head time on that duck graph.

    • Thermal solar with storage has to compete against stored wind/solar and (on the West Coast) Wyoming wind which kicks in about ‘neck’ time.

      It’s going to be interesting, watching the financials play out….

  • Since the Duck is demand after PV/Wind, looks like the assumption set says a lot more PV added to CA then wind. In fact added wind doesn’t even keep up with added night time demand. Based on their guess, would need to push demand into the middle of the day, charge your EV at work not at home at night. Have your freezer run chill 10 degrees colder from 12-3 so it doesn’t run from 6-9. That or use “storage” to move power to later in the day. It is for sure going to play with the peak pricing models.

  • Tesla will never allow Model S to be used for feeding electricity back to the grid, because it burns the battery faster and it is likely that Model S battery dies before eight year warranty period. Tesla battery costs some 44 000 dollars and this means that electricity cost is around 600 dollars per MWh. E.g. SolarCity can deliver Tesla batteries at far cheaper rate for grid storage.

    However, here is smarter way to use long range electric vehicles for balancing grid load while optimizing the longevity of EV battery. My post at Tesla Forum:

    Using Tesla car as free storage for renewables — feature suggestion

  • I remember a few years ago when smart meters were installed in San Francisco, people were calling on their I-phones complaining about the radio frequencies causing them cancer and demanding that they be removed. Will the smart meters as part of a demand response/cost/net metering have a better acceptance now?

    • Almost certainly.

      New stuff scares some people. By now they have new issues bunching their bloomers.

  • Why do we continue to call daytime electricity use peak demand, when the greatest electricity demand is off-peak after 6pm?

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