Overselling California Solar
A couple of days ago the headlines read: “California Powers 6 Million Homes With Solar Energy, Slays Record.” The reference was to a record amount of solar power generated in California on July 12, 2016. I wonder how the general public interprets a headline that implies solar energy can sustain meeting the power requirements of six million homes for an appreciable period of time. This is similar to what we’ve been hearing recently about Texas, Chile, and Germany’s Energiewende where, in some cases, so much electricity is being generated that they’re having to give it away—as if this is a positive attribute. I get enthusiastic about progress and major steps forward in the energy space, but inflating small steps into giant leaps only makes it more difficult when we try and educate the general public about the current status of power generation resources and the inherent constraints and difficulties we face in meeting the dual challenges of reducing carbon emissions while providing reliable and affordable electricity 24/7. This is something I’m particularly concerned with in Georgia as with respect to renewable resources we’re at a geographic disadvantage compared with states such as California and Texas. While currently our only economically viable resource is solar, Texas and California are endowed with generous solar and wind resources that can be leveraged quite differently and to a far greater extent than is possible in Georgia.
Figures 1 & 2 represent California’s power resource mix for July 12, 2016, the day the state broke its record by generating 8,030 MW of solar power. Table 1 represents California’s power mix for 2015 and is broken down by resource and with respect to in-state generation and imports.
A Few Observations:
- California’s solar output for July 12, 2016 could meet the power needs of six million homes for only a very brief period of time;
- The well-known critical issues facing renewables are illustrated, particularly with solar as its peak is about five hours prior to the system demand peak and it is available for only part of the day;
- Wind is a much more consistent energy resource for California than is solar;
- California is heavily dependent on imports which constituted 33.5% of its power mix in 2015 and 26.2% on July 12, 2016;
- Nuclear was 3% of California’s imports in 2015;
- California is geographically situated in near proximity to abundant solar and wind resources, unlike states in other regions of the U.S.
California’s renewable energy objectives remain a daunting challenge. With some of the highest electricity rates in the country (currently 12.67 cents/kWhr average for all sectors, April 2016; US average is 9.81 cents/kWhr), it remains to be seen how the loss of nuclear baseload coupled with an increased dependency on renewables will affect prices, not to mention reliability. If storage is being looked at as the holy grail, it will have quite a bit of work to do at the beginning and end of each day as well as at times of peak demand.
As for the rest of the country, with climate concerns and carbon reduction being of such great concern, nuclear must remain a priority, particularly for regions where renewable resources aren’t abundantly available compared with California.