The Grid: A Balancing Act

The power grid is something you probably don’t think about very much—except when it stops working. When we experience unexpected power outages because of events like the heat wave gripping the San Francisco Bay Area, where I live, right now. We use electricity daily, hourly—for that quick charge to boost our cell phone whenever we want it.  But where does it come from and how does it get to our homes and businesses?

Hopefully more and more of it will come from wind and solar, but currently there is a mix of generation across the west consisting of natural gas, wind, solar, hydro power and in parts of the west, coal.  In my home state of California we have great renewable resources, including the increasing number of solar rooftops, which provide abundant solar energy in the middle of the day. All of this power, whether it is clean or dirty is delivered to us through the complicated, and currently balkanized, power grid.

We rely on the grid to deliver reliable electricity, so we can go about our (increasingly electrified) daily lives, and we produce and use it at different times of the day across the west.

For example, we have excess solar in California at midday, and instead of “dumping it” we can share it with other states, but only if our grids are better connected.  Wyoming and New Mexico have high quality excess wind usually at times when California needs it most, like right around dinner time. We can make the best use out of these resources and lower costs by allowing our grids to interact more efficiently to balance out supply and demand for clean energy. 

Here’s what that might look like: 

A regional grid provides California and our neighbors with a way to sell low-cost renewable energy resources at the times each state needs them most.

 As my esteemed colleague Carl Zichella has stated in his blogs, “without regional markets, California's ambitious climate and renewable energy goals may not be achievable.” One of our climate goals is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, which means turning off coal plants and building more renewable energy across the west. 

Balancing renewables across the region helps: 

Lower costs and decrease excess transmission build

Reduce pollution from fossil fuels and water use across west (water is not needed to fuel wind or solar roofs, but it is needed for coal and gas)
Make the grid more reliable by making sure power can go where it is most needed when it is most needed

If we do not move to a regional grid then we will have an inefficient use of the system in California and the West, over-investment in infrastructure, wasteful operational practices and more pollution from dirty power plants in all of the western states. 

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