California renewables curtailments surge as coronavirus cuts energy demand

At-a-Glance:

At-a-Glance: The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), which operates the majority of California’s grid, has been curtailing renewable energy at record levels this year. Now, the grid operator is facing even more falling power demand due to the statewide shelter-in-place order caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Learn more from Greentech Media’s article titled “California renewables curtailments surge as coronavirus cuts energy demand.”

Key Takeaways:

  • CAISO’S renewable curtailments have been rising every year because of the state’s aggressive clean-energy goals. In January 2020, the operator curtailed 138,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of wind and solar and 157,000 MWh in February, compared to 12,700 MWh in January 2019 and 82,600 MWh in February of 2019
  • Since Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statewide stay-at-home order in mid-March, CAISO has recorded a significant drop in demand with load reductions anywhere from 5 percent to 8 percent on weekdays and from 1 percent to 4 percent on weekends.
  • Even before COVID-19, CAISO was seeking ways to manage this curtailment through exporting the excess energy to neighboring states and battery storage technology.
  • The economic effects of the operator’s curtailment efforts on the state’s solar fleet are hard to quantify, but some amount of curtailment may be a more cost-effective choice than other expensive options, like a massive energy storage investment.

Path to 100% Perspective:

Due to California’s clean-energy targets and seasonal patterns, CAISO has been curtailing more renewable energy year-after-year. Now, the state is seeing more load-forecasting errors due to a lack of historical data on how a pandemic affects power consumption. This pandemic and lack of current effective or affordable options for managing excess renewable power may indicate a need for alternative solutions, like Wärtsilä’s approach to flexibility and power-to-gas technologies as laid out in the whitepaper and webinar, “California’s Faster, Cheaper Path to 100% Clean Power.”