Sharing Clean Energy With Our Neighbors Is Saving Us Millions

One of the key challenges for the electric grid operator these days is upgrading the electric system so that we don't have to throw away as much clean energy. Yes, you heard that right - sometimes we have to shut down production of clean renewable energy, like solar panels and wind turbines that emit no pollution, just because our electric grid needs enhancements in order to absorb all the clean energy we are producing.

If that sounds crazy to you, then you are not alone - our state energy leaders get it too. They're working hard to devise solutions to help integrate all this energy coming from our expanding fleet of solar panels and wind turbines, which emit no carbon pollution. The good news is that there are several ways of modernizing our electric grid to take full advantage of all the clean energy that we can produce. One way is, quite simply, sharing with our neighbors. Also known as "regional coordination" in energy circles.

Sharing our energy resources with neighboring states creates benefits on both sides of the borders. Instead of going it alone, once two regions start to share and coordinate their resources, both regions need fewer power plants to meet their electricity needs, while cuttingcosts and increasing the diversity of their renewable energy resources. And they don't have to shut down renewable energy resources as often.

For example, if California has more solar energy than its 20th century electric grid can handle (and would otherwise throw away), under this new approach of sharing energy, California can offer the extra solar energy to a neighboring state, and vice versa - the benefits flow in both directions.

A sharing plan called the Energy Imbalance Market (EIM) began running over a year ago and is now gaining steam. It began as coordination between the California Independent System Operator (Cal ISO), the entity that manages the vast majority of California's electric grid, and Pacificorp, a utility that serves customers in six western states. Just two months ago, NV Energy in Nevada joined and the benefits for clean energy were magnified. (And three more utilities operating in three western states have plans to join soon.) The EIM is not fully complete, and it's just one way (focusing on short term energy transfers) to coordinate better across region and to help integrate renewable energy. But the early results are impressive.

The most recent quarter of EIM's operations show that the benefits are skyrocketing. Transfers across borders hit all-time highs, millions of dollars were saved, and notably, more clean energy than ever was saved from being thrown away. After Nevada joined the EIM in December, California's ability to send energy (in short term markets) across the border shot up - as did Nevada's. Here's a look at how much energy is now being shared due to the improved EIM.

Total Energy Transfers Among All EIM Participants, on a Monthly Basis

At the end of the day, this sharing plan has saved a total of $45 million dollars for all the participants since November 2014 and saved over 15,000 GWh of renewable energy from being thrown away just last month.

As California, rightfully, is ramping up the amount of clean energy it will rely on in the future, it will be critical to expand the suite of renewable integration solutions. Unless we want to go back to throwing away cheap energy from clean energy resources like solar panels and wind turbines.

About the Authors

Sierra Martinez

Legal Director, California Energy Project, Energy & Transportation program

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