California’s grid operator orders a Flex Alert ahead of Labor Day heat wave
SEPTEMBER 04, 2020 - sandiegouniontribune
With an intense heat wave bearing down across California throughout the Labor Day weekend, the state’s grid operator has issued a Flex Alert calling on electricity consumers to voluntarily conserve energy so that the demand for power does not outstrip supply.
The Flex Alert will be in place statewide from Saturday through Monday from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. each day.
“We expect above normal temperatures across California and, therefore, heavy loads,” said Eric Schmitt, vice president of operations at the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the grid for about 80 percent of the state, including San Diego. “And we’ll need help.”
On Wednesday, the CAISO, as it is known, issued a directive to electricity generators and transmission operators to postpone any maintenance work so that as many lines as possible can be available to maximize transmission capability.
The moves come as grid officials look to avoid a repeat of last month’s rolling blackouts that turned off the power to about 400,000 homes and businesses for just over one hour on Aug. 14 and led to a shorter outage on Aug. 15 impacting about 200,000 customers. The power shutoffs that the CAISO directed the state’s utilities to enact were the first statewide blackouts since the California energy crisis of 2001.
“At this point, we’re not forecasting any blackouts,” Schmitt said. “As we get closer and closer to each day, we’ll know better about the accuracy of our forecasts.”
Friday will be the first day grid officials can look at the day-ahead energy market and see what will be available on Saturday.
In the meantime, John Phipps, CAISO’s director of real time operations, said, “We’re lining everything up we can to be as prepared as we can.”
The heat wave is expected to blanket nearly the entire state, with temperatures expected to be 10-20 degrees hotter than normal.
Meteorologists from the National Weather Service in San Diego on Thursday issued a “Heat Furnace” alert and predicted all-time records in some locations. Highs are expected to reach the low- to mid-90s along the coast. The Saturday forecast for Escondido is a high of 109 degrees, with 110 in El Cajon.
Extreme heat leads to surges in electricity demand as customers turn up their air conditioners. It can also reduce the effectiveness of energy infrastructure such as transformers and generators because they are not able to cool down sufficiently at night.
CAISO officials did point to some potential good news — the upcoming heat wave does not appear to be as widespread as the high temperatures that led to the August outages.
About 25 percent of California’s electricity comes from out-of-state energy imports. But in August, a “heat dome” stubbornly remained over neighboring states like Washington and Arizona, and that led to those states holding on to their resources instead of transferring them to the Golden State.
“Things can change rapidly,” Schmitt said, “We still do have fires in California at the moment. They move quickly, of course, and that can change the transmission situation. However, we’re looking good for potential transfers into California from the West, and the heat event doesn’t seem to be as broad-sweeping as the mid-August event.”
According to CAISO officials, on a normal summer day the California system handles a total load of about 38,000 megawatts.
The demand forecast for Saturday will be 44,237 megawatts, Phipps said. It is expected to go to 46,636 megawatts Sunday and 45,060 on Monday. Those figures are roughly about the same as loads seen in mid-August.
The two days of blackouts could have extended into four consecutive days but big energy users and household utility customers across the state cut back on consumption and the outages were avoided.
CAISO officials say they’re hoping for a repeat.
“The response we got ... was unprecedented,” Phipps said. “And we saw an impact of literally thousands of megawatts that made those two days much more manageable, so we’re very grateful for that help.”
The all-time record for peak demand load in California is 50,270 megawatts, set on July 24, 2006.
That’s about 4,000 to 6,000 megawatts higher than what was experienced on Aug. 14 and 15. So why did the state experience blackouts on those two days?
CAISO officials said the energy portfolio as well as energy demand is different today than it was 14 years ago. For example, there was very little solar in the state’s electric grid compared to now.
The challenge comes when solar production rapidly declines when the sun goes down, especially between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. in what grid operators call the “net load peak.”
The loss of those megawatts of generation has to be replaced by other sources. And in an electric grid, system operators have to balance supply and demand instantaneously, generating every kilowatt that is demanded by customers who expect their lighting/heating/air conditioning to come on the moment they flip a switch.
“That rate of change now is very different from what it was just a very few years ago and it’s a real vulnerability,” Schmitt said.
Read more: https://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/business/energy-green/story/2020-09-03/californias-grid-operator-orders-a-flex-alert-ahead-of-labor-day-heat-wave
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