Adding clean energy to increase capacity
The state is going “all-in” on zero-carbon electricity as the fuel of the future. On June 24, 2021, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved a plan that requires utilities to add an additional 11.5 gigawatts of low carbon electricity to the grid by 2026. For perspective, the total grid capacity is roughly 50 gigawatts, and average daily peak loads are typically about 30 gigawatts.
Commissioner Rechtschaffen of the CPUC stated: “This is a landmark decision. I don’t think it is hyperbole to describe it as such.” He went on to say that the new directive “calls for an unprecedented amount of clean energy.”
Grid loads in California occasionally get dangerously close to the total capacity. The maximum demand occurs on hot days when thousands of customers turn on air conditioning systems to beat the heat. If the demand exceeds capacity, utilities must shut down sections of the grid to prevent overloading, creating brownouts. Adding capacity to the grid will reduce the likelihood of brownouts in the future. Commissioner Rechtschaffen went on to say that “We are now thinking about renewables to meet our needs – not just to check a box.”
Replacing nuclear power with renewables
The Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant provides 2.2 gigawatts, roughly enough to power 2.5 million homes in California. The facility will be retired and go off-line in 2025. For years policymakers have debated on how to replace this capacity once the plant is off-line.
The CPUC considered several different proposals related to replacing the capacity provided by Diablo Canyon. Many of the recommendations relied heavily on natural gas to replace a portion or all of the current power. Ultimately, they agreed to support a proposal that includes a 100% Greenhouse Gas (GHG) free requirement. The CPUC anticipates some of the capacity will come from demand response resources and will likely include some form of storage. The net outcome is the state is looking to replace electricity previously supplied by the Diablo Canyon plant with carbon-free alternatives.
Renewables are quickly becoming the lowest cost open to adding capacity to the grid. This factor alone is spurring the adoption of solar and other renewables for utility-scale electrical generation. Another clear indication that electricity is quickly rising to the top as the emissions-free energy source of the future in California.
Read Advocacy Update from last month: Advocacy Update, May 2021