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28 October 2021

Gas allowed in California’s 11.5 GW procurement

California’s 11.5 GW clean energy procurement, which has a 2023 to 2026 timespan, is likely to end up including some room for gas capacity upgrades. This development has emerged after a ruling from an administrative law judge requested feedback on whether the procurement order, first approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) in June, can allow natural gas upgrades at existing power plants.

The scale of gas to be permitted within the procurement order has been unclear, varying from 500 MW to 1.5 GW. Naturally, the three big old utilities in the state have supported the presence of gas while a plethora of NGOs oppose it: but at the same time, the utilities opposed having such upgrades as a mandatory requirement, especially if it is not also imposed on the lesser power providers which have sprung up in the state.

Either way, the procurement places a heavy emphasis on availability, with eight-hour energy storage for half of the procurement, and dispatchability 80% of the time for the other half – so the procurement may well be a boost to biomass, CSP and geothermal power.

Last month some gas plants were granted temporary permission to operate above previously imposed capacity restrictions, with another 400 MW having their mothball requests rejected for the next 18 months. That came ahead of a few temporary planned blackouts this month.

California has a very ambitious and aggressive set of energy transition targets – a totally carbon neutral economy by 2045, which the state has said will require 6 GW of assorted renewable and battery resources to be constructed every year.

California’s August 2020 blackout, as well as the ongoing blackout threat and controlled power curtailment, saw basically every source of power fall short by 1 GW or more at the same time. The blame can’t be pointed at any one type of power, but rather the simple fact that California decommissioned many gigawatts of nuclear and gas too hastily – it got rid of old power sources before bringing enough new energy online. The state has since scrambled to tender battery energy storage on a vast scale, and should account for 4 GW of additions by 2023.

It has to be said that the ongoing power shutoffs in the state each autumn are also due to high winds and forest fires forcing parts of the grid offline, it’s not simply supply and demand, and distributed renewables will help that side of things greatly.

The graph of power supply by source for the 27th October is typical of the past couple of years, including the near 8 GW of imports from neighboring states especially Arizona, which still use coal. The 27th only had peak demand of 30 GW or so, but on a peak day with high air conditioning demand this can rise to 45 GW, while neighboring states will also most likely be using a lot of air conditioning, limiting their exports to California at that 8 GW figure.

The solution at this point is going to be mass energy storage, prolonging the green noontime mountain of renewables, specifically solar, into the evening, while California’s last nuclear plant, the 2.2 GW Diablo Canyon, is also on the chopping block. Unlike gas, nuclear cannot easily power up and down to suit renewable intermittency, which is why it’s being eliminated first – though a further 3.7 GW of gas is on the chopping block in the near term.

California is one of the most active states for wind and solar onshore development, but plans for offshore wind will have to wait for the 2030s once floating technology has matured.