Today’s California Energy Embarrassment

Yesterday we noted the embarrassment announced in understated fashion by the U.S. Department of Energy that California imported 25 percent of its electricity in 2019. It seems almost as if someone at the very excellent Energy Information Administration has a thing about California’s silliness, because today’s EIA “Today in Energy” brief has another understated but devastating smackdown for California’s energy pretensions.

In one sentence, today’s brief essentially says, “Without lots of natural gas-fired power, California is screwed.” Of course that’s not the actual language—these are government analysts were talking about. But it’s not hard to read between the lines. Let’s start with the chart:

Now let’s go to the text:

In California wholesale electricity markets, natural gas-fired electricity generation helps to balance fluctuations in electricity demand with daily cycles in solar-powered electricity generation. Natural gas and solar are the two most prevalent sources of electricity generation in California; however, solar generation is non-dispatchable. Grid operators in the state use natural gas and, to a lesser extent, hydroelectricity and electricity imports from neighboring areas to balance changes in electricity demand.

Both demand for electricity and output from natural gas-fired power plants in California are often highest in the afternoon and early evening, between 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. Output from solar power will peak and then plateau by midday, rapidly declining by the evening as the sun sets. As solar output declines, natural gas-fired generators often have to ramp up, or increase their output, considerably.

The ramping effort in California is often greatest in the summer months, when air conditioning use increases demand for electricity. According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) Hourly Electric Grid Monitor, hourly natural gas-fired generation on a typical summer day (based on the average of July and August 2020) went from 10 gigawatts (GW) for the hour ending at noon to 22 GW for the hour ending at 7:00 p.m.

Question: What will happen to natural gas “peaking” demand after California closes its last nuclear power plant in a couple years, and supposedly replaces it with wind and solar power? Good times for natural gas I suspect. And the promises of carbon-free electricity by 2035 or 2050 will go poof faster than an Eric Swalwell emission on MSNBC.

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