In California, Natural Gas Will Pave Way For Solar

Natural gas, the enemy of many frack-fearing greens, is the very thing that will allow California to more than double the amount of renewable energy on its grid by 2020. So says the man who runs the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the vast bulk of power distribution in the Golden State.

The assertion from California ISO chief Steve Berberich came with the release of a report [PDF] from the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC) on the challenges California faces in achieving a state mandate to source 33 percent of its electricity from renewables before the end of the decade.

image via NERC/CAISO report

image via NERC/CAISO report

“Renewable generation provides a great basis for greening the grid and reducing the electric industry’s greenhouse gas footprint,” Berberich said. “Their intermittency can be supported by a clean and flexible gas generation fleet, which California is currently transitioning to.”

The NERC report itself doesn’t really address how much new natural gas generation California will need to go along with the around 8,000 megawatts of new “variable energy resources” (VERs) – 1,125 MW of solar thermal, 5,850 MW of solar PV and 1,012 MW of wind. Reuters, however, has said that a survey of generating companies revealed that some 6,400 MW of new natural gas was likely by 2020.

Cal ISO and NERC say the rise of renewables necessitates practically a wholesale remaking of how the state runs its grid.

“A primary conclusion from this review is that when thresholds are reached at the level CAISO is experiencing (i.e., the 20–30 percent level), constraints are experienced on a system that was designed with a different class of equipment in mind,” the report says.

“Policymakers should give due consideration to the impacts and potential reduction of essential reliability services (system inertia, frequency and voltage control, power factors, ride-through capability, etc.). The operating characteristics of VERs—not just the energy or capacity being provided—will fundamentally change the basic composition of essential reliability services. The system must continue to work reliably.”

 

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.