Variable Generation, Flexible Demand: The California experience

The sun setting behind wind turbines and a field of solar panels.

California is moving to a future of predicting variable renewable generation and determining how best to schedule demand to match it.

Speaker: Dr Fereidoon Sioshansi, President of Menlo Energy Economics.

Chair: Dr Lachlan Blackhall, Entrepreneurial Fellow and Head, Battery Storage and Grid Integration Program, ANU

Attendees will be able to ask questions of our speakers via the online Q&A.

Traditionally the power sector predicted demand and dispatched generation to meet it. Utilities, most of whom were vertically integrated and regulated monopolies, maintained a portfolio of plants – base-load, intermediate and peaking – to meet demand as it varied from hour to hour, day to day, and across the seasons. Moreover, demand was a “given,” namely the sum of the load from all electricity-using devices in the network. There was little or no attempt to manage demand, either its quantity or when or where it was consumed. Finally, all consumers bought all the kWhs consumed from the network and paid a regulated bundled tariff.

This paradigm is changing. In places like California, we are moving towards a future where we have to predict variable renewable generation and wondering how best to schedule demand to match it. This is likely to happen in more places as the percentage of renewables approaches higher levels. As the pressure to go zero-net carbon increases, many countries are aiming for 100% renewable electricity generation by 2045-50.

Already, the variability of renewable generation, especially solar and wind, is challenging the ability of grid operators to keep supply and demand.

Dr Sioshansi will describe the obvious and the not-so-obvious reasons for this fundamental paradigm shift and its implications for the operability, resilience and security of future networks, focusing on California’s case.

Dr Sioshansi is President of Menlo Energy Economics, a consulting firm based in San Francisco, California, with over 35 years of experience in the electric power sector