Solar crash ramped up CA natural gas power

Solar crash ramped up CA natural gas power


clouds, california, wikimediaYesterday a problem struck California’s electricity system that wasn’t supposed to happen until at least 2015.

Freak low-lying clouds at about 3 p.m. cut temperatures to only 68 degrees in Los Angeles and 64 in San Francisco, about 6 degrees below normal, increasing demand for electricity to heat homes and businesses — even as the clouds cut the solar-powered production of electricity.

Guess what kept the lights and heat on. Long-demonized fossil fuels, which don’t peter out when the sunshine dims.

Bloomberg reported:

“Output from solar plants totaled 2,813 megawatts in the hour ended at 1 p.m. local time, 21 percent lower than the day-ahead forecast for the hour, according to the California Independent System Operator Inc.’s website. Demand has been higher than the grid manager projected during the work day.

“Spot prices at Northern California’s NP15 hub jumped $13.99, or 64 percent, to $35.86 a megawatt-hour in the hour ended at 1 p.m. from the same time yesterday, grid data compiled by Bloomberg show. Prices at Southern California’s SP15 hub increased $13.11, or 62 percent, to $34.37.”

Normally this time of year, solar power doesn’t slacken until dusk at about 5 p.m. That’s also when businesses start shutting down, so a shift can be made from solar to other types of electricity generation. The following chart shows what happened yesterday with solar power:

Solar power generated per hour in megawatts – Nov. 11, 2014
(California Independent System Operator)

Time 7am 8am 9am 10am 11am 12am 1pm 2pm 3pm 4pm 5pm 6pm
Mega-watts 200 2000 3400 4000 4000 4000 3600 3200 2200 1000 0 0

Solar power generated around 4,000 megawatts at peak hours of the day.  Total solar power generated for Nov. 11 was 27,600 megawatt-hours. And that was about 4.9 percent out of about 576,000 total megawatt hours for all power for the whole day (see footnote 1 below).

In other words, solar power is only reducing fossil fuel emissions for less than 5 percent of the electricity demand each day at a cost of over 60 percent higher than natural gas prices for 12 to 25 percent of the hours each day.

Here’s a chart of all renewable use on Nov. 11. Note that solar power is in yellow, and wind power in light blue.

renewables graph

‘Duck chart’ problem

Solar power industry advocates are quick to advertise that solar power is becoming cheaper than gas in California.  What they omit is that this is only for a small portion of the day. And the erratic solar use causes natural-gas power prices to rise during the sunset hours each day, what is called the “duck chart” problem because it looks like a duck.

The “duck chart” problem is when — even on normal days — the new green power grid ramps up enough conventional power each day between two events: 1) when solar power is sunsetting (going dark); and 2) when the mostly nighttime wind power isn’t spinning enough yet to take over.

The problem is seen in the following chart, where the lines like a duck with a tail, protruding belly and beak. The “neck” area is sunset every day when conventional energy “ramps up” to replace solar power.

Duck Chart - from ISO

As shown on the chart, this ramping problem becomes more pronounced from about 4:15 pm to 6:15 pm each day. The “duck chart” shows there is a demand in California to ramp up 13,500 megawatts of conventional power in a narrow two-hour window of time at sunset each day to replace solar power going offline.That would be enough power for about 6.75 million homes per hour.

This “duck chart” problem was supposed to wait until 2015 or later to quack. But yesterday California got a foretaste of what’s going to happen.

State launching costly solar power battery storage

To solve the problem that struck yesterday, Assembly Bill 2514, passed in 2013, mandated that regulated electric utilities must procure 1,320 megawatts of very expensive solar-battery storage. By contrast, natural gas is cheaply stored in huge underground wells and can be released instantly to meet emergency demands.

The U.S. Energy Information Agency reported that, as of Oct. 31, the Western United States had about 498 billion cubic feet of “working gas” in underground storage.

The Southern California Gas Company has four underground natural-gas storage facilities located at Aliso Canyon, Honor Rancho, Goleta and Playa Del Rey. The total capacity is 136 billion cubic feet of gas.

Storage protects against gas-supply imbalances, curtailments and arbitrage (i.e., price flipping).  In other words, underground natural gas storage already serves as a “battery.”

A Sandia National Laboratories study in 2011 conducted for the U.S. Department of Energy reported the costs for energy storage ranged from a low of $5 per kilowatt hour to a high of $10,000 per kilowatt hour. (A kilowatt hour is enough electricity to power your home for one hour.)

By comparison, the average price of residential electricity in Los Angeles was a fraction of that, at 21.6 cents per kilowatt-hour in Sept. 2014.

California’s Renewable Energy Mandate of 33 percent green power by 2020 is costing more than expected.  To solve this problem, California is setting up an “Energy Imbalancing Market” to buy cheaper imported hydropower from Warren Buffett to meet its demands during the sunset hours each day.

In 2012, California’s Little Hoover Commission asked Gov. Jerry Brown to report what the transition to renewable energy is going to cost.  Brown failed to respond. So the Commission sent a letter to Brown in October 2014 again requesting he report the impact of renewable energy on electricity rates.

Meanwhile, California is being bailed out of its quiet, daily energy crises by cheap natural gas from hydraulic fracturing or fracking, which some counties want to ban.

Footnote 1: The Cal-ISO forecasted approximate average demand for Nov. 12 was 24,000 megawatts per hour.   24,000 megawatts x 24 hours = 576,000 megawatt hours. 27,600 of 576,000 megwatts is 4.9 percent.


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  1. fletch92131
    fletch92131 12 November, 2014, 17:11

    “Solar power generated around 4,000 megawatts at peak hours of the day. Total solar power generated for Nov. 11 was 27,600 megawatt-hours. And that was about 4.9 percent out of about 576,000 total megawatt hours for all power for the whole day (see footnote 1 below)”
    I hope I never hear another solar advocate telling us how wonderful it is and how it’ll take over the world soon.

    Reply this comment
  2. LetitCollapse
    LetitCollapse 12 November, 2014, 17:36

    I don’t think anyone expected solar power to replace natural gas or oil. Only to supplement it. Look, we have to find new energy sources. Recall that old saying “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again while expecting a different result”. I am no environmental wacko. I am a man who is ruled by practical common sense. I am tired of being Saudi Arabia’s beatch. And I NEVER want to spend 2-3 hours in line at a gas station to fill up my tank AGAIN! And I don’t EVER want WW3, caused by an international struggle over depleted supplies of gas and oil, to destroy what it’s taken mankind thousands of years to create. We already have a taste of what oil’s done to the middle east. If you think the invasion of Iraq was over WMD’s and that our 13 year occupation of Afghanistan is over terrorism and our airstrikes in Syria are to stop ISIS, put down the crack pipe and grow up. If you don’t care what happens to you, that’s one thing. But have a little consideration for future generations like past generations had for you, okay? 😉

    Reply this comment
    • vess
      vess 19 January, 2015, 22:12

      Well, lucky you (and us) – this new and clean and cheap energy has been discovered … by the past generations for us – the nuclear energy. What the past generation failed to do is to ensure that we don’t grow to be the un-educated dolts we are, so we can understand how it works and why it is the best option that we presently have. And stop paying attention to blatant propaganda about the nUCULAR-end-of-the-world. (One would expect that the fear mongers would at least know how to pronounce the name of their ‘enemy’). And if they give you Chernobyl as an example – what a delight it would be – because the very Chernobyl IS the proof that even ancient nuclear technology, combined with poor maintenance plus total human negligence – lead to … actually not much. Go check on the facts of Chernobyl – don’t drink the cool-aid. More than 30 years ago US developed the best ever nuclear reactor technology known to man! Created a real-life FUBAR to test it and NOTHING bad happened!….and the Saudis shitted their pants and unleashed a total FUD campaign using foreign and domestic marionettes to do the fear mongering. IMHO restituting the nuclear energy IS the best gift we can make to the future generations … and to us.

      BTW, I am a computer engineer. I don’t work for anything nuclear, I don’t have vested monetary interest in any such. Just have interest in getting the cheapest, cleanest, safest energy there to be had.

      Reply this comment
  3. LetitCollapse
    LetitCollapse 12 November, 2014, 19:19

    I just read that today there was a 4.8 frackquake in Kansas about 30 miles from Wichita. Very unusual for that area. There’s lots of fracking going in in that region. There have been complaints about increased quake frequency and strength in Ohio too where fracking is a new hobby for Big Oil. If these quakes continue national sentiment on fracking is going to turn sour rather quickly. If they set off an 8 pointer in a populated area of California all hell’s going to break loose. I guess the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico isn’t enough for them. Now they want to bring it to Metropolis City, USA!

    Reply this comment
  4. Tesla_x
    Tesla_x 12 November, 2014, 19:49

    The quake was around 3 miles down.

    Too deep for fracking.

    Reply this comment
    • LetitCollapse
      LetitCollapse 12 November, 2014, 21:38

      That’s a relatively shallow quake. Now if it were 7 or 10 miles deep I might agree with you. But 3 miles is borderline. If we keep screwing around with mother nature eventually she’s going to lower the boom on us. Mother nature always gets the last laugh! 😉

      Reply this comment
  5. Tesla_x
    Tesla_x 12 November, 2014, 19:51

    FYI, the whole battery thing is another back door solar bailout….more PORK for the pv industry.

    Reply this comment
  6. Irv
    Irv 13 November, 2014, 09:35

    Yet another very good reason to (“TRASH SOLAR”!!! Its good for the taxpayers and the utility rate payers!!!)

    Reply this comment
  7. Irv
    Irv 13 November, 2014, 09:37

    “TRASH SOLAR” Its good for the taxpayer==its good for the utility rate payer!!!

    Reply this comment
  8. HANK
    HANK 14 November, 2014, 08:47

    Well of course the one day event was an anomaly, everything is going to be fine. There is not one alleged leader who will do anything to prevent the obvious disaster we are heading toward.

    Reply this comment

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