Wednesday, July 10, 2013

LA Times: "Without San Onofre, San Diego and south O.C. power could be tight"

LA Times article also quotes a state Democratic senator saying challenging times ahead for carbon emission reduction because of San Onofre closure.

From LA Times (7/10/2013):

The energy landscape of Southern California will look vastly different without San Onofre, officials said in a state Senate committee hearing Wednesday, the first in a series of public discussions on life without the nuclear plant.

The 2,200-megawatt behemoth in northern San Diego County brought a steady supply of power to about 1.4 million homes until equipment problems forced it to close in early 2012.

But the plant's owner, Southern California Edison, announced last month that it would be permanently retired.

The plant's closure came as the state was dealing with new regulations on the use of ocean water for cooling that will force many coastal plants to shut down or perform extensive upgrades, and a mandate for the state to get 33% of its power from renewable resources by 2020.

In the short term, officials said California should get by this summer without San Onofre, although energy supplies will be tight in San Diego County and southern Orange County if there is an extreme heat wave or fires that take out transmission lines.

Three new gas-fired plants in Southern California — El Segundo, Walnut Creek and Sentinel — will "only help marginally" in the San Diego and Orange County region that depended most on San Onofre, said Steve Berberich, chief executive of the California Independent System Operator, which oversees much of the state's grid.

A more helpful development was the conversion of two retired gas-fired units in Huntington Beach into "synchronous condensers," pieces of equipment that help move energy through the grid so that more power can be imported from outside the region.

The long-term plan for replacing San Onofre is still far from complete. What is clear is that the future grid will need to be more decentralized and flexible, officials said.

“Essentially, it takes a portfolio of all different kinds of resources to meet the needs that we have,” California Public Utilities Commission member Mike Florio said. "Each type of resource has its strengths and weaknesses. We can’t rely on one source. We have to have a mix.”

Some voiced concerns that the loss of San Onofre will lead to an increase in reliance on fossil fuels, at least in the short term.

“One of the challenges we have with the closure of San Onfore is that nuclear helps us with our greenhouse gas emissions," said state Sen. Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills).

Increasing the use of renewables does not entirely solve that problem, officials said, because until better technology is developed for energy storage, the energy they produce is not available at all times.

“You have to fill that in when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, and right now the technology available to do that is the gas plants," Berberich said.

A task force of various state energy and environmental agencies is working together to come up with a long-term plan for replacing San Onofre, and is expected to come back with recommendations by mid-September.

State Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) said he was encouraged to see the various state energy agencies working together. But he also pointed out that officials would not be scrambling now if they had planned before the plant went down for the possibility of San Onofre going offline.

"The public deserves to know whether or not the regulators in California and the legislators in California are on top of the challenge of keeping the lights on," he said.


Mike said...

At the risk of oversimplifying, a few comments that may help those unfamiliar with the California electrical power system:

There are three investor-owned utilities in California; SCE, SDG&E and PG&E. The San Onofre plant (SONGS) is co-owned by SCE and SDG&E. SCE has enormous political clout, which is reflected in the comments of the ISO and PUC above. So does PG&E, the owner of California's other nuclear plant at Diablo Canyon. Although the state executive and regulatory agencies are nominally and structurally "independent," they are captive agencies that rarely take actions adverse to the big utilities.

ISO runs the electrical grid which provides energy throughout California. The grid also operates to export and import energy to and from other western states, most notably Arizona and Washington. Once energy is in the grid, it is fungible. Balancing the energy levels in the grid is a technical challenge, but it should be understood that SONGS provided a substantial amount of power to the grid, not just to Orange County and San Diego. The fact that the new gas-fired plants will only partially make up for the closure of SONGS is more because of their lower capacity rather than their geographic location.

Electricity in the grid is not like water in a system of pipes. It does not flow gradually from place to place, but fluctuates instantaneously. It cannot be stored in a tank or dam, but must be used as it is created. ISO's job is to match the electricity levels generated to the load. This is done through a complex computer system which manages machinery that can quickly create or use energy to maintain the balance of generation to load. Gas-fired generators can alter their output levels quickly, and so are useful in the balancing process.

As ISO's chief mentions above, fossil fuel generators can provide electricity when sources like wind and solar are unavailable. What he fails to mention is that nuclear generation poses its own set of grid management problems, because nuclear reactions cannot be quickly started or stopped. Existing ISO operating rules prioritize the use of nuclear generation for exactly that reason, with the result that non-nuclear sources are routinely directed to vary their generation levels with demand. Thus, from a power sales perspective, nuclear plants in California have had a certain financial advantage over non-nuclear generators, in that sales are limited primarily by plant capacity rather than demand.


arevamirpal::laprimavera said...

Thank you , Mike, for the background info and situation.

Anonymous said...

The local news in San Diego reports sufficient power State wide even during possible extreme usage per State officials.
(Someone needs a rate hike to cover their ass from the losses from San Onofre???)
Notice at the end of the report mentioning returning the land at San Onofre back to public usage and no mention of storing radioactive spent fuel waste or where the reactor pieces will end up being sent to.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, npps can only operate at maximum capacity and and it takes days to turn them on and off. Npps can only cover baseload, like a sports car that can only travel at 300 kph. This is why France has to export electricity when it does not use enough and has to import it at peak time.

Also, interesting similarity between California and Japan: a utilitiy loses a npp and blackouts and rate hikes are threatened. Electricity mafia systems are always the same, aren't they?

By the way, per capita energy consumption in the US is a multiple of the consumption in Japan and Europe -- and cost is a fraction. How about consuming less?


Anonymous said...

Of course I don't know exactly how, but southern CA made it through last year's summer just fine although the same concerns about energy shortage - or should I say hype? - came up. Few places on earth get as much sun as CA does, so start by making use of it! I find it quite ridiculous that you find solar panels on the majority of houses in Germany (obviously not a place known for abundant sunshine), but hardly any in southern CA. Yet we are to believe that CA can't go without nuclear power?

Anonymous said...

Energy companies can't compete with the sun's energy thus can't gouge the consumers for obscene profits guaranteed by the State and Federal governments. SDG&E tried to charge residential rooftop solar panel owners a fee for managing the feed into the grid. I don't think the extra power from solar goes any further than your neighborhood houses because it can't get past the step-down transformer. The fee request was denied by the PUC.

I am reading graphene works at about a 50% efficiency rate converting sunlight to electricity. GE has recently started manufacturing 60% efficient natural gas turbines for producing electricity that are variable speed to match on and off peak hours of 'green' energy output.

Nuclear is about 35% efficient if you forget about adding in the radioactive spent fuel storage costs for an eternity.

Anonymous said...

@7:39 I suspect you are talking about thermodynamic efficiency (how much work/electricity you extract from a system when you input/pay-for a certain amount of heat/energy). There is however another type of "efficiency", which is computed considering how many dollars you feed into the system and how much profit you can extract from it. Energy efficiency and dollar efficiency are not necessarily related, also because dollar efficiency can be enhanced by externalizing costs (as you point out in relation to the cost of storing exhausted fuel).
For example, the energy efficiency of a solar panel is the electricity it produces divided by the sunlight it receives; its dollar efficiency is the (present) value of the electricity it produces divided by its initial cost. In Japan households pay electricity twice the price of large lot users, hence solar panel dollar efficiency tends to be double for households.
The energy efficiency of a nuclear plant is not 30% (that is thermodynamic efficiency of its steam cycle, which is already atrocious); however, if you consider that nuclear fuel becomes unusable after only a few percent of its uranium has been "burnt", a npp energy efficiency is maybe around 1%. The dollar efficiency of a npp is however much better because someone else pays for the pollution generated by fuel manufacturing, someone else pays for the risk the npp might explode, someone else pays for exhausted fuel storage, someone else pays cash subsidies to the nuclear industry (450,000,000,000 yen per year in Japan).
Come to think about it, the dollar efficiency of a bank robber is also extremely high: he can take home lots of cash at the price of investing into a gun. Nuclear industry is not much different.


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