March 2012 shattered US temperature records. What about the summer?
Electricity market operators are not generally fond of hot summers, when consumers turn up their air conditioners to stay cool, while straining the network, sometimes to the brink of disaster. This summer is no exception, especially in a few places where supplies are likely to be tight.
Perhaps the most pressing is the case of Tokyo Electric Power Company (TEPCO), the operator of the stricken Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant, which was devastated during March 2011 tsunami. Of Japan’s 54 nuclear reactors, only 1 is currently operating, and the remaining one is scheduled for refueling in May, before Tokyo’s famously hot and humid summer.
By all indications – and barring a last minute miracle – Japan has to make it through the summer’s peak season without any nuclear generation, roughly 30% of its installed capacity prior to the accident. In some ways, the situation is worse than last summer, when a few reactors were still operating. There are also concerns that consumers, who performed admirably by curtailing electricity consumption roughly in half, may be weary and less enthusiastic to do the same this summer.
On the other hand, what are the options? Given a choice between collective voluntary rationing or the prospect of rolling blackouts, most consumers are likely to opt for the former.
The other hot spot is likely to be Texas, where the market operator, the Electricity Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) has already announced capacity shortages due to growing demand and lack of sufficient new generation, while a few old and inefficient coal-fired plants may be retiring due to environmental restrictions.
During last summer, which was unusually hot and dry, many metropolitan areas in Texas suffered two to three months of triple digit temperatures, in Fahrenheit, that is. If the summer of 2012 turns out to be equally hot, ERCOT is likely to be stretched to the limit, or beyond.
ERCOT’s capacity shortage cannot be alleviated by importing power from neighboring regions since Texas – it is a long story – essentially operates as an isolated island, with poor interconnections to other grids in North America or Mexico.
Another hot spot may be Southern California, which normally relies on 2,400 MW of dependable capacity from San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS), which is 80% owned – and operated – by Southern California Edison Company (SCE). The plant has been shut down due to unusual wear and tear of the steam generator tubes and it appears unlikely that the problems will be fixed in time for the summer.
Somewhat like ERCOT, San Diego and Orange County also happen to be poorly connected, which means limited transmission capacity to make up for the loss of SONGS. California Independent System Operator (CAISO) warned in late March that without SONGS, Los Angeles area may be short approximately 240 MW; San Diego by 337 MW under a heavy summer load scenario.
CAISO has request AES California, an independent power producer (IPP), to bring 2 obsolete gas-fired units in Huntington Beach back into service. The units, retired since 2001, were literally being dis-assembled when the CAISO’s order came. AES California President Eric Pendergraft, is optimistic the 425 MW antiquated steam plant can save the day if and when needed.
A lot, it seems, is riding on the weather – something that everyone likes to talk about but nobody can do anything about.
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