July 3, 2014

Drought Could Bring Down The Grid

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Drought in California. Droughtmonitor.unl.edu

Drought in California. Droughtmonitor.unl.edu


This week’s update from the U.S. Drought Monitor showed that the California drought has hit a new high (or low) point. A third of the state is now considered to be in an “exceptional drought,” which is the most extreme level the monitor notes.

Exceptional drought can have a huge impact on people as well as businesses and recreation that rely on water, and can result in significant economic loss. But there may be another threat to California residents: the drought could threaten the electric grid.

According to a Bloomberg report, California’s three energy regulating agencies-he California Energy Commission, the Public Utilities Commission and Cal-ISO, the independent grid operator – sent a joint letter this week to the California Water Resources Control Board warning that planned water curtailments for 2014 would present a danger to grid reliability and create “substantial potential for serious public health and safety impacts.”  The California Energy Commission also stated that natural gas-fueled power plants are currently vulnerable to water shortage as well.

CalWatchdog also reports that the letter follows the May 9 report by the Cal-ISO, “2014 Summer Loads and Resources Assessments,” This report warned that 1,150 megawatts of gas-fired steam generation is at risk of shut down due to curtailed water.  That is enough power to electrify 1,150,000 homes per hour.

The report identified northern California, southern Orange county and San Diego county to be the regions most at risk.

This summer highlights the dilemma of drought vs. energy in California: water curtailments may conserve water for 2015 but they threaten the reliability of the grid in 2014. Do decision-makers hold water for fish this year or release it to allow steam turbines to run?

And relief in terms of rain won’t likely come soon—California receives nearly all of its rain and snow in the short winter months. The only hope is that El Nino could save the day in the fall and winter by bringing with it much needed rainfall. It is that or a mass Californian rain dance.