The California rotating power outages of August 2020 is a perfect example of the current need for clean natural gas generation assets. The California Public Utility Commission, the Independent System Operator, and the Energy Commission issued their Root Cause Analysis of the outages. One of the major causes stated was “The transition to a reliable, clean and affordable resource mix”. Translation: we are bringing on too many intermittent renewable resources without enough dispatchable reserves to cover peak loads.
Renewables are essential in our power mix and will help in our climate change initiatives. But, without a balance of dependable and resilient generation assets, whether base loaded or dispatchable, we risk the grid reliability we have been accustomed to. Add to this problem the regional power shut-offs due to weather-related power line fire risk, and the answer to our power mix is obvious. We need more clean, reliable, distributed, dispatchable, and cost-effective generation assets.
So, what is an asset that fits this requirement? Well, it is not coal, and it should not be. Coal is dead for the right reasons. Nuclear is great, but public resistance will be a continuing problem. Storage technologies integrated with renewables (solar and wind) is a good answer, but we have a long way to go with the price of storage and the duration of its dispatching. So, the short term (the ten-to-twenty-year renewable transition period) answer to grid reliability and energy costs are clean natural gas assets. These assets can and should be distributed into microgrids for grid resiliency. As distributed assets, they can also be designed for combined heat and power (CHP) applications.
Most of the current natural gas-driven assets like generators, micro-turbines, and fuel cells are also capable of running on Biofuels, Renewable Natural Gas, and Hydrogen. Natural gas is clean, but the future could be green.
The near term for a natural gas-driven asset is a “lifeboat” for the grid. The longer-term is the “bridge” to renewables. And the future is to become green or be dead like coal.
Originally written by Dick Paulsen and published by Pargen Green. Dick Paulsen is the founder of PARGEN, Inc. an energy consulting firm.