The California power supply may be stretched to its limits this summer.
It all started with the indefinite loss of the 2,250-MW San Onofre nuclear plant nearly 18 months ago. The plant went and remains offline because of premature wear on reactor steam tubes at both units. The loss of such a large asset to a state-wide or regional power system is the kind of worst-case scenario that grid operators plan for on a short-term basis.
On top of that, it’s barely snowed in the mountains whose spring runoff supplies much of the “fuel” for the state’s hydropower. In the 2013 summer assessment released Monday by the California independent system operator, Cal-ISO, the report said that “snowpack water content on May 2, was 17% of average statewide for that date, 16% for northern portions, 23% for central California and 9% for the southern region.” As a result of that, the ISO projection assumes a 1,022-MW “derating” on the hydro resources in the ISO system. And the report also noted that, not surprisingly, the drop could be bigger if the summer is hotter and dryer than normal.
But despite all that, the summer assessment “forecasts an adequate supply of electricity for most of California,” the ISO said in a statement that accompanied the report. Some of that conclusion is based on relying on moral support: the ISO said it “will count on customers participating in local demand response and conservation programs to help out during rapidly changing grid conditions.” But even beyond that, if the state gets a normal summer, the report said, “there is an adequate supply of electricity resources for the rest of the system-wide ISO grid.”
The fact that there have not been major power outages in the state already without San Onofre for so long is a testament to the electricity market, the California Independent System Operator’s focus on reliability, and the importance of mother nature and macroeconomics.
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Power plants using non-nuclear fuels — including natural gas, big hydro and renewables from inside and outside the state — have stepped up to take advantage of San Onofre’s absence to be sure.
But the weather and California’s economy played key roles last year and will do so again.
In 2012, California benefited from a relatively mild summer, which kept demand lower than it might have been otherwise, and the Pacific Northwest exporting excess hydro generation brought on by heavy precipitation. Overall electricity demand was about flat with 2011, another bearish factor, because of static growth in the state. But California’s economy is growing again, which means the grid operator is forecasting a 2.3% increase in its peak demand in 2013.
The state has also been helped by the addition of new power generation. From June 1, 2012 to April 1, 2013, a total of 2,502 MW came online and “an additional 891 MW is expected to energize by June 1,” according to the ISO. Of that nearly 2,400 MW of generation, about 575 is wind and solar, according to the grid operator.
It will be exciting to see how the California electricity market responds to any dynamic shifts in fuel and weather this year.