Making Net Zero Energy Homes in California

Welcome to the next installment in our ongoing series regarding California’s roadmap for a green energy future.

The state’s Independent System Operator (ISO) recently published a strategic plan for helping California wean itself off of fossil fuel and reduce CO2 emissions.

Yesterday, we looked at the first step in this comprehensive strategy – Greening the Grid.

California can make the entire utility network cleaner and more reliable by incorporating renewable energy sources like sun, wind, and geothermal. But in order to manage these intermittent power technologies, the grid would need to bring on more storage capacity, mostly through electric vehicles (EVs) and other portable batteries.

Today, will look at the next step – reshaping California’s green energy demand curve.

Matching California’s Green Supply with Electricity Demand

Utility operators across the state are responsible for matching electricity supply with demand. This is easy enough to do with fossil fuel-based power plants. But when using renewable energy, electricity capacity is highly variable in the short term. Sometimes it’s too cloudy for solar. Sometimes wind power generates too much energy.

In order to smooth out these peaks and valleys, utility operators run their fossil fuel facilities 24/7 – never falling below a certain minimum threshold.

But this minimum threshold is sometimes too high – especially when solar, wind, and geothermal deliver more clean electricity than the grid can manage.

And so utilities are looking for ways to reshape consumer demand for power – especially green power. The goal is to get consumers to use more energy when the sun is shining and wind is blowing. And to use less energy during other times of the day.

The California Independent System Operator recommends a few different strategies for accomplishing this:

1. Facility Retrofits and Decommissioning

By using smaller power plants with lower “minimum” thresholds, it’s easier to avoid the problem of overproduction. While this is true, we question the logic of investing any additional resources in technologies that rely on dirty forms of power like oil, gas, or coal.

Fortunately, the public is inclined to agree, and there is increasingly less tolerance for large-scale investments in fossil fuel-based power facilities.

2. Deploying SMART Technologies

ENERGY STAR appliances and “smart” thermostats are becoming more commonplace throughout California. These innovative solutions are able to monitor the grid and either use more electricity (when power is cheap and abundant) or use less (when power is scarce or expensive).

According to ISO,

Leveraging these capabilities to reduce, stop, or even increase electricity consumption depending on grid conditions can provide significant reliability and economic benefits to the entire electric system and all who depend on it.

3. Using Market Signals

State regulators and utilities can further enhance “smart” technologies by weaving in artificial pricing signals. They could make electricity rates significantly higher during bottleneck periods and significantly lower during power gluts.

Consumers hoping to maximize their savings will be able to follow these time-of-use rates and adjust their electricity consumption accordingly.

When used together, this multi-pronged approach would make energy demand management much easier – for utilities and consumers alike. And if coupled with better power storage (see yesterday’s article), the results would be impressive.

Tune in tomorrow when we look at ISO’s 3rd and final recommendation: Regional Power Sharing and Green Energy Collaboration.