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Richard Brooks's picture
Co-Founder and Lead Software Engineer Reliable Energy Analytics LLC

Dick Brooks is the inventor of patent 11,374,961: METHODS FOR VERIFICATION OF SOFTWARE OBJECT AUTHENTICITY AND INTEGRITY and the Software Assurance Guardian™ (SAG ™) Point Man™ (SAG-PM™) software...

  • Member since 2018
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  • Dec 23, 2020

This article provides some very insightful, objective and trustworthy findings with regard to the California outages this past Summer and the need to improve grid planning to accommodate the energy transition. If you are not familiar with Arne Olsen of E3, one of the authors of this article, then I recommend you lookup his works - they are very methodical and well documented, based on the E3 reports I read from PJM and New England. IMO, his credibility and integrity in providing honest, objective, proficient and complete analysis is beyond reproach.

Here are my key takeaways from the article:

Renewable energy was not to blame for the blackouts, according to the state's root cause analysis and the views of informed observers

the events did shine a spotlight on a key limitation of renewable energy sources: that they can only generate when the resource is available. Additional resources will be needed to ensure reliable, around-the-clock electricity systems.

Recent studies by E3 and others have concluded that  California will require up to 35 GW of "firm" capacity — generation that can operate whenever needed — through 2050 on a deeply-decarbonized grid. Similar conclusions are reached for New England and the Pacific Northwest.

Multi-day energy storage systems such as "green" hydrogen or Form Energy's aqueous air battery can function as alternative sources of firm capacity for highly renewable and deeply decarbonized grids. These systems are quite different from today's battery technologies, unlocking the potential to cost-effectively store excess wind and solar production for days or even weeks

New tools are needed to plan low cost, reliable, clean grids with long-duration energy storage

many of the planning models used by utilities and their regulators today are not well-suited to consider the role of long-duration energy storage and multi-day load flexibility as a complement to variable renewable generation.

looking forward, the industry needs another quantum leap in modeling to capture the full operational value of long-duration storage and very high renewable penetrations while ensuring reliability under a wide range of complex, interconnected system conditions. [RJB: A Grid Services Framework is needed to define the capabilities of these resources; Grid operators will be looking to acquire and dispatch "grid services" as part of FERC Order 2222]

optimizing the use of long duration storage introduces significant additional complexity that is well beyond what current models can handle.

planning models need to better capture the hour-to-hour dynamics of the grid over contiguous days, considering all potential operating conditions rather than a snapshot of a few hours. Form Energy's research shows that planning investments over a time horizon that captures the hour-to-hour dynamics of demand and renewable energy supply for a full year can have a significant impact on utility portfolio costs and reliability. [RJB: Totally agree on the hourly granularity aspect - this is needed to model solar production throughout the year]

planning models need to better capture key system constraints such as local reliability challenges with greater fidelity. E3's research and Form Energy's research highlight how meeting demand in certain constrained pockets of the grid requires a clear understanding of the hour-to-hour demand in those pockets over periods from days to weeks. [RJB: Totally agree, locational granularity and accuracy becomes much more important as the energy supply becomes even more distributed/decentralized with DER]

many of today's planning models don't capture the full hour-to-hour dynamics of the grid across days or weeks or extreme weather events during the portfolio design stage, they are unable to realize the full value of technologies that arbitrage energy production and prices across days or weeks and that manage the risks posed by extreme weather.

Long duration, multi-day storage is garnering increased attention, investment, and procurements, increasing the importance of the tools necessary to accurately plan for it

The stakes are high. As the California blackouts demonstrate, there is little room for error.


John Miller's picture
John Miller on Dec 23, 2020

Richard, you make some excellent points as to the importance of accurately modeling the need for detailed power systems supplies-and-demands based on all significant variables.  One of the worst examples of not reasonably-properly studying-evaluating & managing their power systems’ supply-demand, including backup storage and generation, is California (CA).  Beginning back in the late 1990’s, CA had numerous major brown-/black-outs due to State Government policies failures to properly address backup power supplies required during different peak demand periods.  It took them years to get adequate power supply(s) back on-line/available as required to reliably maintain power supplies 24-7.  This year, they of course experienced repeat/numerous power outages again, due to record fires and supply outages caused by power distribution-line(s) shutdowns/failures and inadequate/alternative backup power supplies & sources.

Why has CA experienced these major/historic rolling brown-outs & black-outs?  They, of course. did not reasonably analyze & simulate theses actual-probable power outage variables, and needed solutions.  The same will likely be true throughout much of the U.S. in the future if the New 2021 Administration blindly moves forward with their apparent plans to rapidly increase the generation of renewable power in the near future decades, likely without properly/reasonably modeling & addressing the greatest supply-demand in-balance risks.  With their planned political goals of shutting down most/all baseload coal and most backup natural gas power generation, without properly addressing the most probable supply-demand variables and providing needed power supply & distributions, CA’s past and recent unreliable power systems could become the national norm.  This, of course, includes properly addressing all supply and demand variables, including Industrial Scale power storage; after it becomes a reasonably and economic reality.

As you probably are aware, the largest available and proven power storage in the U.S. and many International Power Systems’ today is ‘Hydropower Storage’.  Nuclear Power, such as found in France, is also currently a very reliable zero-carbon Power generation supply source.  Unfortunately, both Hydro and Nuclear Power are continuously under attack by some Environmental groups, such as erroneously assumed high safety risks and the impacts of supposedly protecting native fish, at the expense of both new-advance Nuclear power and current-future Hydropower Storage capacities.  These assumptions are most often not based on any reasonable analysis of the actual costs-n-risks, or Power Systems’ reliabilities and net-carbon benefits.

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Dec 24, 2020

Thanks for sharing your insights, John. You also make some excellent points with regard to other types of much needed resources.

Martin Schlecht's picture
Martin Schlecht on Dec 27, 2020

Thanks Richard for your post. Considering the nature of renewable energy, the cost decrease, that has still not reached the bottom, the evolution of storage technology in line with cost decrease will open new cost efficient business models going forward.

As consequence, a model must predict future developments, which is quite difficult as it is like crystal ball reading.

Just see a huge overcapacity of solar and wind in the future, with excess being stored in different media, including green fuel or hydrogen that will eventually reduce the need for fossil back-up capacity to a large degree. Particularly nuclear as a base load generation will not find its place in the future energy mix, it is simply not flexible enough. And gas peakers which may be needed today urgently will see reduction in operating hours over time...

Going green is surely a challenge, but since it offers the lowest cost of energy plus CO2 savings, it is going to happen anyway, Better be prepared and contribute.

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Dec 28, 2020

Totally agree, Martin. We are currently at the leading edge of this transition. More, faster change is inevitable. "Better be prepared and contribute." +1

Richard Brooks's picture
Thank Richard for the Post!
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