written 23 August 2020
published 30 August 2020
This year 3 million people in India, 1/4 of Bangladesh, and 55 million people in China, were affected by flooding. A recent derecho wind devastated parts of Iowa, and significant portions of American mid-western crop land lie fallow under unending rain. The oceans are very warm, generating 9 named storms in the Atlantic before August 1st, and this week, two storms are on track to hit the US Gulf coast at the same time. Phoenix has had daily temperatures above 110° for over 6 weeks, Baghdad hit 125°, Death Valley hit 130°, and it is so hot and humid in Vietnam they have to work the fields at night. In the middle of an extreme heat wave, turbulent weather across California generated 11,000 lightning strikes in three days, igniting over 550 fires. The heat has stressed the California electric grid to the point of considering rolling blackouts for the first time in two decades.
Climate change is not a problem for the future, it is already here, creating social and economic disasters. Decarbonizing our economy as fast as possible is essential if we want civilization as we know it to survive much longer. At some point, our entire nation will wake up to this reality, and decide to respond.
California now produces 1/3 of its electricity from renewables, and in Ukiah, 3/4 is carbon free. While this is good progress from a carbon pollution point of view, it demands a new way of thinking about power, because renewables collect energy when it is available, not necessarily when we want it. This production/load mismatch requires energy storage and creative consumption.
Grid scale battery storage is expanding rapidly. It is versatile, allowing the quick changes from charging to discharging necessary for handling variable production and load conditions. This month PG&E announced a 730 MWh lithium ion battery installation at Moss Landing in Monterey, which is expected to be operational next year. It will use 256 Tesla Megapacks, larger versions of their residential Powerwall units. California has created a $600M fund to promote distributed storage, and a Tesla representative has already been in communication with the City of Ukiah to see how they can help solve our storage needs.
The recent heat wave increased electricity demand for air conditioning, stressing the capacity of the grid and threatening a blackout. Since relatively little power is generated within the Ukiah valley, we are affected by capacity limitations of the regional grid. Any increase in local generation will increase local power resilience and help the entire grid. The city is currently investigating megawatt scale local solar production possibilities. In addition, the school system has installed a 350 KW canopy array south of town, and other commercial projects are adding solar as well. However, every one of these systems should also include storage capacity, which is not currently happening. The production/load mismatch can't be ignored.
The issue is not only how we produce our energy, but how we consume it. As we shift our economy to sustainably running on our energy income, rather than burning through our finite fossil energy savings, we have to get smarter and less wasteful. The most cost-effective energy is energy you don't need to produce. Investing in more energy efficient appliances, homes, and commercial applications is essential. But we can also shift when we consume power.
For example, solar power peaks during the middle of the day, but air conditioning loads tend to peak later in the day when people get home from work and want to cool down their house, just as solar power production is declining. Standard air conditioning hardware is designed to produce cool when we want it, regardless of energy cost or availability. An alternative is called ice cooling. When lower cost power is available, energy it stored by creating ice, which can then cool a building using relatively little power. This is now commercially manufactured by air conditioning leaders such as Trane Corporation. Everyone considering air conditioning upgrades should examine this option. By shifting our energy load curve, we can help take stress off the gird and save money.
In these demanding times, we have to get more creative. Ukiah can become a leader in energy transformation, but it will require political will and vision.