The Future of California's Grid: Challenges and… | Sonoma Clean Power

The Future of California's Grid: Challenges and Opportunities Ahead

A Message From Our CEO

Back in August, California experienced the first statewide rotating power outages since the Energy Crisis of the early 2000s, leading many of us to ask, "what went wrong" and “is this the new normal we should expect”?

On top of Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) events and multiple wildfires, we’re now being asked to relearn about Flex Alerts and help keep the lights on with targeted conservation efforts. California's Independent System Operator (CAISO), the operators of our shared statewide power grid, issues Flex Alerts when the available energy supply in California might not be sufficient to meet demand. In August, and again in September, SCP’s customers helped California keep the lights on by reducing our electric usage in the afternoon and evening.

Extreme weather events, like the recent heatwave, combined with unanticipated disruptions to our State’s major generating resources – such as underproducing natural gas plants and low solar output due to smoke and heavy cloud cover – can create a situation where electricity usage is substantially higher than usual, but there’s simply not enough power on the grid to meet it.

So why, in 2020, was California not better prepared for this scenario? A detailed study by CAISO, the California Energy Commission, and the California Public Utilities Commission found the root cause of the shortages involved three primary factors:

  • The emissions of greenhouse gases over the past century have created more frequent extreme heat events that can simultaneously impact nearly the entire Western United States, reducing the possibility of getting help by importing electricity from other states.
  • The planning efforts to ensure sufficient resource availability, especially between 3 and 10 pm, have not kept pace with the closure of natural gas plants or the adoption of solar and wind. SCP has always used a very diverse set of resources to ensure coverage during that critical evening period, but we have recently contracted for 75 MW of new-build battery storage to add further capacity in 2021, and plan for more in subsequent years.
  • Finally, a number of failures occurred relating to how electricity providers communicated their expected needs. Fortunately, SCP did not underestimate our electric load, but we are investing in more sophisticated tools anyway to ensure we continue to do our part.

During the Flex Alerts, we called on our customers to conserve energy and reduce their usage as much as possible. One group of customers, in particular, went the extra mile for our grid, our GridSavvy Community.

Through GridSavvy, SCP is able to tap into customers' smart home devices, including smart thermostats, electric vehicle chargers, and heat pump water heaters, and schedule or delay their operations for a short period of time. When CAISO issues a Flex Alert, SCP can reduce our local demand on the electricity grid by pausing these devices, preventing the need for forced outages or the immediate burning of fossil fuels.

Together, the GridSavvy Community had the same effect as turning off over 1,000 incandescent light bulbs in Sonoma and Mendocino county during each Flex Alert!

Want to be a part of the solution? Customers who already have smart home devices can connect them to our demand response program, or they can purchase brand new devices through our GridSavvy webstore with discounts from SCP. Plus, GridSavvy customers are rewarded with a $5/month bill credit for their participation.

In addition to GridSavvy, the SCP team has been working hard to launch customer programs that will improve the efficiency and resilience of both new and existing homes, businesses, and community buildings in Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. You can learn all about them in this issue of Clean Power Quarterly.

We are not out of wildfire and PSPS season just yet, so please take the time to sign up for SoCoAlert (Sonoma County) or MendoAlert (Mendocino County) emergency notifications and make sure that your contact information is up-to-date on your PG&E account.

As always, we are here to help you during these difficult times. We thank you for choosing Sonoma Clean Power and for doing your part to fight the climate crisis.

Stay safe and take care,

Geof Syphers
Chief Executive Officer of Sonoma Clean Power