California’s Renewable Energy Problem

California’s Renewable Energy Problem


This episode of real engineering is brought to you by brilliant a problem solving website that teaches you to think like an engineer Money climate stabilization plans depend upon the power sector moving towards net zero carbon dioxide output by 2050 To achieve this fossil fuel power plants are beginning to close around the world coal The world’s stable energy source for centuries has steadily fallen out of favour since 2015 With a 70% drop in new construction projects this decline cannot be entirely pinned on shifting global Attitudes to climate change economic pressures have been the driving force for many of the closures as solar and wind energy continues to get cheaper California is among the most proactive places in the world when it comes to renewable energy and they have a good reason to be droughts and wildfires have plagued the state in recent years and Trends indicate that they will continue to get worse with increasing global temperature over the past eight years Californian energy sources have shifted dramatically in 2010 their energy sources looked like this with the majority of energy coming from natural gas hydroelectricity nuclear and geothermal in 2018 each of these energy sources has dropped in the percentage of total energy production with solar rising to an astounding 19% in just eight years and wind more than doubling to 6.5 percent last year Californian lawmakers set a goal of reaching 100% renewable energy for the states by 2045 and at this rate California are on track But California’s progress is about to get a lot more expensive and difficult a switching to 100% renewable energy Even in sunny California is not quite as easy as installing solar panels Let’s discover. Why by visiting Moss Landing in beautiful Monterey Bay This natural gas power plant began producing energy in 1950 with the nameplate power capacity of six hundred and thirteen megawatts By 2002 it was the largest power plant in the state of California with the power capacity of two thousand five hundred and sixty megawatts it has gone through many changes in those seventy years of Operation with older less efficient systems been retired and replaced with modern more efficient and cleaner systems Last year, the latest update for the facility was announced with an unprecedented battery storage facility totalling 567 megawatts of storage making it the largest battery installation in the world this battery storage facility is designed to take over the Moss Landing power plants role as a Peeker station providing surges of energy to the grid when needed and thus decreased California’s use of natural gas California’s grid operator provides life and historical stats on power generation and consumption Let’s take a look at a typical day in the state. This is the energy supply for May 24th 2018 this line is the power gained from hydroelectricity We can see a steady base load is provided by nuclear energy from the Diablo Canyon power plant Which is this flat output line this supply deviates very little throughout the year Providing a steady two thousand two hundred and eighty megawatts about 90 percent of the needs of the state this power station rarely varies Its load because it takes a tremendous amount of time to do so here We can see the very noticeable spike of renewable energy starting at 6 a.m As the Sun rises on this day thirty four point five percent of California’s electricity was provided by renewable energy 51% of that being from solar this is fantastic But we have one big problem solar energy began to drop off at 5 p.m just as California’s population was about to leave work and get stuck in traffic for hours before arriving home to turn on their Air-conditioning cook their dinners and watch TV this results in a peak power demand at eight thirty Four and a half hours after our solar supply peaked in order to deal with this demand California begins to ramp up its natural gas power stations, which can quickly raise their energy output to deal with surges in demand California also imported a significant amount of energy from other states primarily wind and hydro electricity from the Pacific Northwest a Nuclear coal a natural gas from Nevada as California looks towards a carbon neutral energy supply They’re looking to remove these natural gas power state and replaced them with batteries that can store excess solar electricity So it is available when needed? This battery installation in Moss. Landing is going to fill that role and make no mistake Batteries are now cheap enough to be a financially viable solution for California at small scales like this Allowing power companies to buy cheap solar energy and sell it on for a profit when demand requires However, this business model does not last very long as we scale up Let’s calculate how much battery storage California would need to replace. Just this natural gas peaking power on May 24th 2018 step 1 Don load the data from this day and graft the natural gas power output This data has a resolution of five minutes But we are going to reduce a resolution to an hour to make the data easier to Paris We will assume our new grid will contain a steady base load of natural gas power at four thousand two hundred and twenty megawatts which is a 10% drop in our natural gas use for the day and a 1.7 percent drop when expressed as a percentage of total energy use on the day in an ideal world I think California would be generating this base load using nuclear energy But that seems unlikely as early last year regulators voted to close the Diablo Canyon power plant California’s last nuclear power plant We can now clearly see the energy we need to provide with batteries as this area that rises above our base load To calculate it We simply need to calculate the area of this section which will give us our battery storage requirements in megawatt hours This comes out to be about eleven thousand two hundred megawatt hours of energy storage Tesla’s one hundred and twenty-nine megawatt hour battery storage facility for horns Dale firm in Australia came with a price tag of fifty-six million dollars Extrapolating that figure out to an eleven thousand two hundred megawatt hour battery We could expect a total cost of four point eight six billion dollars We would likely be able to achieve a lower battery cost over time as battery prices continue to lower over time It’s not an absurd number Diablo Canyon power plant, which has about five times the daily energy output cost 13.8 to construct. However, it’s important to remember that batteries. Do not generate their own energy And in order to make this a worthwhile endeavor Renewable energy would need to generate a surplus of electricity during the day to charge them which California is already doing everyday, California curtails Significant amounts of renewable energy, which is not needed. This figure is continually rising with April 2019 having a record 190,000 megawatt hours wasted on May 7th of this month an astounding 8000 369 megawatt hours was curtailed Nearly enough to fully charge our massive battery It’s this cheap energy our Moss Landing battery farm will be looking to purchase and sell for a profit however going forward to May 15th just 193 megawatt hours was curtailed even in summer Our renewable resources are highly variable and unreliable This leaves us vulnerable If we do not have alternative energy sources like natural gas or nuclear to pick up the slack but let’s move forward assuming we are going to rely on solar as Californian politicians seem to be aiming for This requires billions of dollars to be spent building redundant power which can pick up the slack when needed this problem becomes Particularly apparent in January in December where our energy generation falls off a cliff even in sunny, California Let’s analyze the towpath solar farm to see the scale of our problem in order for solar energy to reliably provide power We need to size it to give us the necessary power even in winter months once again We’ve all the data we need to figure this out here is the average energy output for a single day of each month over the past four years of this farms operation as We can see our energy generation drops from a peak of four thousand three hundred and eighty eight Megawatt hours in June to a low of two thousand six hundred and thirty seven megawatt hours in January This differential is actually quite good and other solar farms can see a larger drop in production But for now, we will be generous So to charge our eleven thousand two hundred megawatt hour battery using this power source in winter. We would need a solar farm 4.25 times bigger than topaz firm this solar farm costs 2.4 billion to construct So once again scaling linearly, we could expect a cost of 10.2 billion for solar farm of this size Now this presents a new problem at our peak power in summer We are generating on average an excess of seven thousand four hundred and thirty seven megawatt hours a day if this energy cannot find a home grid operators have to shut it down to prevent it from Overloading the grid to prevent the energy being curtailed it can be exported Assuming neighboring states are also not over producing or we can add more storage to the grid which would cost roughly 3.2 billion using the same method of estimation from earlier You can see a pattern emerging here to increase solar. We need to add more batteries in order to add more batteries We need to add more solar and it eventually gets to a point where batteries dominate costs Caused explode as we increase our reliance on renewable energy and storage Here to just increase our renewable resources by 1.9 to maybe 2.5% We have reached a total estimated cost of eighteen point two six billion dollars Four point six billion more than the construction cost of Diablo Canyon nuclear power station while producing less power These costs bloat more and more as we increase our reliance on renewables in Order to ensure we have enough power in the winter months We have to build excessive amounts of renewable energy sources Or we can try to store the excess power from the summer months and save it for a rainy day at which point our costs become dominated by batteries the clean air task force an MIT research group estimated that California would require nine point six million megawatt hours of energy storage at 80 percent renewable usage and thirty-six point three million megawatt hours of energy storage at 100% this is equivalent to twelve days and forty five days worth of energy storage Respectively their rationale for this which is not clearly given in any of their documentation, but I managed to track down the original researcher is this is the storage required to store all the excess energy in the summer months when we scale our Renewables to be fifty percent from solar and fifty percent from wind while not scaling their power generation to provide enough energy Even on the average winter day a very strange approach considering lithium-ion batteries are not suitable for long-term storage Gradually losing their church This coupled with the costs associated with batteries along with the rapidly falling price of solar and wind energy Makes me very skeptical of the number thirty six point three million megawatt hours of energy storage if we gave a generous future adjusted price of one hundred dollars per Kilowatt hour would come out at a price of three point six three Trillion dollars more than the three trillion gross domestic product of California for 2018 This for me is an over simplistic approach So let’s set forth our own plan taking January of this year as an example We are going to scale our power for this month as it’s our worst case scenario Downloading the data for every single day of the month we can see the energy demand per day varying like so now if we place our solar generation on the same graph we can see it generated an average of 8.2 percent of our total generation with a low of 2.1 percent on January fourth and a high of twelve point seven percent on January 27th We had consecutive bad days on the 14th 15th 16th and 17th with only two point one to point two five point two and three percent From solar if we scale this to provide 100 percent of our energy needs even on our worst day we can see that the high variation would add additional costs either in battery storage or excess solar Thankfully if we now overlay our wind generation we can see that on those days Wind generation was higher than normal and picked up the slack a little these were obviously cloudy stormy days in California this raises an important point on California strategy They have been rushing to install megawatts of solar in recent years and have not been installing enough wind Wind maybe an overall more expensive power source for California, but going forward It’s going to be a vital part of diversifying their power sources if we add our other renewable power sources Which are geothermal biofuels and small hydro facilities Our new renewables count comes out like this accounting for an average of 20 percent of our energy needs Large hydro facilities are technically a renewable energy source, but are not counted in our total as they require environmentally destructive dams They are also not counted as they are some of the oldest power stations and policy makers do not want large hydro facilities Watering down their efforts in increasing other renewable sources for our purposes. This is silly. So let’s add it in Once again, we have smooth it our output allowing us to be less reliant on batteries and excess power Closing nuclear stations is also a questionable move and overall going to add to our grids costs and inefficiencies The higher the probability of dips in renewables on consecutive days like this the more batteries We are going to need to store excess power on other days that also means we have to install additional Excess power sources in order to ensure we have excess power to charge our batteries This can be done in summer months. But as we said batteries are not well-suited to long-term storage Thankfully many companies are working on developing cheaper energy solutions for the grid which will allow us to cost-effectively store energy currently the true Holy Grail is developing cheap storage that will be able to store all that excess power in the summer months and Allow us to spread it out throughout the year Arpa-e an energy research group modeled after DARPA the loonatics that funded this monstrosity Invested 30 million dollars in 10 startups trying to develop this technology some focus on thermal batteries others Thermochemical and form energy who’s developing a sulfur-based battery received the largest share of that 30 million These are technologies that could facilitate a smaller more efficient renewable grid and we all cover them in a future episode so to recap California is heading towards over reliance on solar energy it needs to begin Diversifying its renewable portfolio with wind and other sources Continue to slowly build out these lithium-ion battery facilities to replace natural gas peaking power But unless something dramatically changes They aren’t going to be a panacea to our renewable energy woes so continued research into low-cost Long-term energy storage will be vital arpa-e needs to be supported in this effort This is just a brief look at California But while the parameters of this problem change with different climates and economies The overall problem is the same We need every country to be intelligently Optimizing their grid to accommodate renewables to ensure an optimized grid is going to require careful Analysis of historical data like we did above while calculating Statistical likelihood of not fulfilling demand with different energy systems as much as I would love to Performing a complete study of this nature is outside the scope of a YouTube video but if I was going to do it I would need to brush up on my Python coding knowledge to automate the process and my understanding of Statistics both of which I could do on brilliant taking these two courses will give you all the skills You need to take large data sets like this and make sense of them Python is one of the most widely used programming Languages and it is an excellent first language for new programmers This course will show you how to use Python to create intricate drawings Coded messages and beautiful data plots while teaching you some essential core programming concepts Combine this with the statistics course to learn more about medians variance and standard deviation And you’ll have all the skills to make sense of the mountains of data available on grid provider sites like this Brilliant recently introduced a new feature called daily challenges which will present you with interesting scientific and mathematical Problems to test your brain every day if I’ve inspired you and you want to educate yourself then go to brilliant org ford slash real engineering and sign up for free and the first 500 people to go to that link will get 20% off the Annual premium subscription so you can get full access to all their courses as well as the entire daily challenges archive As always thanks for watching and thank you to all my patreon supporters If you’d like to see more from me the link to my Instagram Twitter subreddit and discord server are below

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