“It’s no wonder there’s increasing debate over expanding California’s grid into a regional system. Meanwhile, the economic viability of traditional generators will continue to suffer unless they, like their renewable energy counterparts, can derive benefit from above-market power contracts. Ultimately, it will be California ratepayers that pay the steep price for this impossible dream.”
As California considers a 100% renewable-energy mandate, the state’s legislators should be asking what happens to California’s energy profile when the sun doesn’t shine and the winds don’t blow.
This month, the national press hyped how California renewables met a record-breaking 67% of the state’s electricity generation. It happened during the 3 pm hour on a Saturday, the day before Mother’s Day. We checked the numbers, and sure enough wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewables had a combined output of 14,215 megawatts out of a total generation of 21,390 megawatts in that hour. It was discernibly a sunny day with the hours of highest penetration of renewables between 8 am and 7 pm.
No doubt, the timing of this impressive event was opportune. This month California’s Senate is considering passage of SB 100, a bill which seeks to accelerate the state’s renewables mandate to 50% by 2026, 60% by 2030 and 100% by 2045.
What better way to convince idealistic legislators to enact a 100% mandate, than declare the state has already skipped past the current 50% by 2030 threshold? At this rate, why not mandate 110%, 200%, or better?
Not so fast. The bigger question state legislators should be asking is what happens to California’s energy profile when the sun doesn’t shine and the winds don’t blow. We looked at the energy production figures for the available days in May (1-28) and compared them to the same period in January of this year. The aggregate data shows California is nowhere near meeting its lofty goals.
|Fuel Type||January 1-28, 2017||May 1-28, 2017|
| Includes geothermal, biomass, biogas and small hydro
 Includes imports and large hydro
Of the 672 hours represented in January (28 days x 24 hours), 73% or 489 hours showed renewables producing less than 20% of the total generation. In May, performance was much better, with most hours producing more than 20%; however when we omit solar from the mix in each month, renewables (including wind) produced less than 20% in all but 7 hours in January and less than 20% in most of the hours of May.
|January 1-28, 2017||May 1-28, 2017|
|Renewables||Generation (MWh)||Hrs Generation <20%||Generation (MWh)||Hrs Generation <20%|
|WITH Solar||2,818,892||489 Hrs (73%)||5,204,519||195 Hrs (29%)|
|NO Solar||1,895,072||665 Hrs (99%)||2,670,267||483 Hrs (72%)|
Obviously, policy debates cannot be based on the renewable energy performance in one hour of one day when demand is low. Sacramento could vote all-day-long to raise energy mandates, but none of those votes will make renewables perform at the levels now being discussed. Banking on storage technology might make up for some of the difference, but that’s not proven at the scale needed and the cost will be exorbitant.
Meanwhile, the push for more transmission is becoming urgent in order to export generation to neighboring states rather than the other way around. As excess megawatt-hours of renewables during the daylight hours collapse real-time market prices, utilities in other states are looking to join the California ISO so they can buy the cheap power — that is, power that’s heavily subsidized by California ratepayers.
It’s no wonder there’s increasing debate over expanding California’s grid into a regional system. Meanwhile, the economic viability of traditional generators will continue to suffer unless they, like their renewable energy counterparts, can derive benefit from above-market power contracts. Ultimately, it will be California ratepayers that pay the steep price for this impossible dream.
California Senate President Pro Tem, Kevin De León, touts his bill as a jobs creator. Maybe so, but before he and his fellow legislators ram this policy through, they owe it to their constituents to wake up from the renewable energy fantasy and recognize the truth right in front of them.