Thanks to smart planning and the power grid’s ever-growing resilience, Monday’s solar eclipse appears to have gone off without a hitch for grid operators and utilities across the country despite the event’s big impact on solar generation.
For example, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) typically relies on a significant amount of solar energy, but CAISO spokesperson Steven Greenlee verifies, “We did not have any reliability issues large or small – things went very smoothly.”
“The California grid and the western Energy Imbalance Market that serves customers in eight western states performed as expected,” explains Greenlee. “While the eclipse ramp-off and back-on were very fast, we were able to manage them and fortunate that there were not major transmission or generation outages. We also got lucky that the weather in California was nice (Bay Area had fog) and temperatures were seasonable, so loads were reasonable as well.”
CAISO has “several years of managing solar (and wind) and its variability,” according to Greenlee. “Often, clouds will obscure a portion of the 10,000 MW of our grid-connected solar resources, which we have to replace with other resource types, so we have built up a strong expertise in managing such events.”
Greenlee says CAISO is still reviewing just how much of its typical 9,000+ GW of solar production was affected during Monday’s eclipse, but he notes, “Hydroelectric and natural gas provided most of the generation needed to ride through the eclipse and loss of solar output in California.”
Meanwhile, PJM Interconnection, the operator of North America’s largest power grid, reports it also ensured reliable power supplies throughout Monday’s solar eclipse.
According to a PJM announcement, the grid operator saw a drop of approximately 520 MW of wholesale solar generation connected to the grid from before the eclipse until the peak of the eclipse. In addition, PJM also estimates that electricity from behind-the-meter solar generation (mostly rooftop solar panels that offset load) decreased by approximately 1,700 MW.
In its announcement, PJM notes it had expected a reduction in power from rooftop panels to result in an increase in electric demand on the grid. However, because of a variety of potential factors, including reduced air conditioning, increased cloud cover and changes in human behavior related to the event, PJM saw a net decrease in demand for electricity of about 5,000 MW throughout the eclipse.
PJM says it will continue to study the impact of the solar eclipse on its system and will integrate lessons learned from event into preparing for the next solar eclipse, predicted to occur in 2024, when the grid is expected to have more solar generation.
Utility company Duke Energy, which has 2,500 MW of solar capacity connected to its system in North Carolina, reports that it lost about 1,700 MW of that capacity during the height of the eclipse.
Nonetheless, Sammy Roberts, Duke Energy’s director of system operations, says, “We were able to balance the Duke Energy system to compensate for the loss of solar power over the eclipse period. Our system reacted as planned, and we were able to reliably and efficiently meet the energy demands of our customers in the Carolinas.”
Elsewhere on the East Coast, Georgia Power held a Facebook Live event during the eclipse and showed real- time production analytics from the utility’s solar research and demonstration project at its headquarters.
John Kraft, spokesperson for Georgia Power, says, “We were glad for the opportunity to help educate customers about our advancements in renewable energy and the part it plays in a diversified energy portfolio.”
According to Kraft, “We have almost 900 MW of solar capacity, including company-owned projects, power purchase agreements, etc. We saw a significant drop in solar production at our small demonstration project at our Atlanta headquarters during the eclipse and expect that solar facilities across the state experienced declines in output, depending on local weather conditions and degree of eclipse darkening.”
However, he adds, “We did not expect and did not have customer outages related to power supply because of the diverse generation mix we employ on our system, including solar, nuclear, natural gas, coal, hydro and other sources. The company was well prepared for this event.”
Georgia Power plans to keep adding solar to its grid after the Georgia Public Service Commission last year approved its 2016 Integrated Resource Plan, which includes the addition of up to 1,600 MW of solar and other renewable energy through 2021.
“An eclipse is a rare event, and one that can be planned for, but it did illustrate the intermittent nature of solar that more commonly occurs with passing clouds, rainy days, at night, etc.,” says Kraft. “Like any power source, solar has benefits and limitations, and when incorporated into a diverse generation mix, as we have done in coordination with the Georgia Public Service Commission, it is an important part of our state’s energy resources.”
The World Bank signalled the possibility of a “more pronounced slowdown” in China, the world’s second-largest economy after the United States. It also cut its growth forecast for Asia. Red-hot growth in emerging markets like China and India helped boost oil consumption coming out of the global recession.
Benchmark crude fell 55 cents to close at US$89.33 in New York. The contract has not closed lower since August 2.
At the pump, gas prices remain stubbornly high. The national average for gasolene rose 3 cents on the weekend to US$3.818 a gallon. But Californians are now paying an average of US$4.668 a gallon, the highest price in the United States, after a jump of 50 cents in the past week. Some motorists there are paying more than US$5.
In response, Governor Jerry Brown has ordered state smog regulators to allow cheaper winter-blend gas to be sold three weeks early. And Senator Dianne Feinstein has called for a federal investigation because she doesn’t think the higher prices are related to supply and demand.
Experts are predicting prices in California could climb to an average of US$4.85 before coming down.
In London, Brent crude, which is used to price international varieties of oil, fell 20 cents to US$111.82.
In other futures in morning trading, natural gas gained less than a penny to reach US$3.40 per 1,000 cubic feet. Heating oil lost a penny to close at US$3.14 per gallon, and wholesale gasolene fell 6 cents to finish at US$2.89 per gallon.
REMEMBER the Jamaican saying “What’s Good for the Goose may not be good for the
Gander”? Look at what it would cost the Government if they support wholesale
renewable energy production in Jamaica.
The political and economic reasons that may have driven the delayed lack of
support for Renewable Energy (RE) initiatives must include considerations that a
significant portion of government revenues come from sale of oil. Buying and
selling oil is big business. If significantly less people use oil-based energy
production systems, the government and oil merchants could face huge losses.
The issue, though, is deeper than simply government wanting oil revenue alone. In
order for RE investments to be viable, there has to be a payback that is of a
reasonable duration. That is even more the case where a tax-hungry government
adds non-value taxes to RE components imported into the country (such as an
environmental import tax on the very items which help to clean up the
environment!). Remember Jamaica is already paying higher transportation costs for
equipment than its larger neighbours who either manufacture the equipment
themselves, or have the benefit of economies of scale.
What this means is that unless one has a need which can only be met by an RE
system at any cost (an example is Mystic Mountain which would probably not get a
service from JPS at any reasonable price because of their location), then one
must connect to the grid in order to either bank and retrieve the otherwise lost
excess production by day, or sell that excess for hard dollars to the utility.
This is what augments the “payback” on the RE investment.
Up to now, every rational country has permitted that exchange between the small
RE power producer and the grid by way of a one-to-one transfer of power called
net metering. The actual mechanics of a net metering policy varies between
jurisdictions, e.g. some allow a single meter to measure the net power flow,
others require a separate second meter to measure the power passed to the grid,
but the essence of the policy is that 1 KWh consumed = 1 KWh produced.
Some jurisdictions do not even force the utility to pay for the annual excess
power produced by individual RE systems, so that e.g., at the end of a calendar
year, the excess production to the grid is lost, but at the very least this would
mean that your bill would be zero for the entire calendar year (I am not taking
into account the minimum payment for billing, distribution, etc.). Jamaica
however, has introduced the idea that the utility should sell us power at 42c per
KWh, and system owners should sell the utility power at 18-25c per KWh. This
Anancy system destroys any reasonable calculation of payback time on the RE
investment. But the government, instead of offering protection to the small RE
investor, has allowed its regulator the Office of Utility Regulation (OUR) to
introduce this net billing system which profits JPS and not the RE producer.
The Minister of Energy’s public preening about his role in setting up the net
billing system and a methodology whereby RE owners can sell their excess power to
the grid displays a pride of accomplishment which may not be justifiable because:
(1) – He achieved very little, it was in train and far advanced under the
previous administration (who equally were really doing little to protect the
public and advance RE take up, but of course Minister Mullings was also engaging
in exaggerated chest thumping) and, (2)– any genuine intention to really help
the public would have included an instruction to the OUR that the new
government’s policy is the furtherance and fostering of net metering and a
request to that office that it develop a methodology for implementation of this
And by the way, any concerns about JPS’s much touted guarantee can be dealt with
by a couple of lines of amendment to the Electric Lighting Act. If the government
can change the legislative landscape for telecommunications as radically as it
has appeared to have done in the past couple of days despite its promises and
entreaties to the investors back in 2000, then what is to stop it from changing
the equivalent legislative framework under which JPS operates?
So to understand the problem, start by recognising that oil revenue may not be
the only motivation for government tardiness in embracing progressive RE
policies. The government also depends on the revenue and profits from JPS earned
directly and indirectly. The question must be why does the government not mandate
net metering? Well, do they really want us to reduce our consumption of the JPS
product? Think on this — the government owns 19.9 per cent of JPS and gets 19.9
per cent of the profits made by that company on a continuing basis. For example,
in 2011, the amount was US$8.76 million, (over JA$750 million). The government
also collects GCT tax revenues from JPS. Finally, the government gets income tax
from JPS’ share of the profits. Government also gets a first bite at the revenue
cherry in the form of Petrojam, which imports oil and sells it to JPS and
everyone else, making vast profits which are turned over to the government.
The Paulwell Energy initiative can, in the kindest terms, be described only as a
good start. One obvious way to lower the country’s oil import bill is to use less
of it. That, apart from individual returns, is what RE provides. Minister Philip
Paulwell should now demonstrate his willingness to go the distance and, in short
order, modernise the RE landscape to a full net metering policy.
Paul Beswick is an Attorney-at-Law
The Jamaica Public Service (JPS) in its own inimitable way has sent yet another ‘shock wave’ to consumers when it announces that, among others, it will now be adding general consumption tax to reconnection charges. Never mind that the disconnection might have resulted in the first place from their actions – i.e., either the high cost to use their service or massive overbilling.
Electricity supply, like water, is a basic utility without which the quality of life for all individuals will be adversely affected. So, who will speak up against the action of the JPS?
Our first line of defence, the minister of mining and energy, is preoccupied with his personal well-being, and the next line of defence, the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR), like many of us, are ‘shocked’ into silence. We dare not take to the streets as the residents of Seaview Gardens found out recently. So what are we to do? We need to examine carefully the role and functions of the OUR.
The OUR was established by an act of Parliament in 1995 to regulate the operations of utilities companies. According to the official website of the OUR, its role as an independent regulator is often misunderstood, particularly by its largest stakeholder group, consumers, who are of the general belief that it seems to side with the utilities providers.
The OUR’s mandate is not that of a consumer advocacy group and, as such, will only intervene in grievances if the affected utility consumer writes to them after getting no satisfaction from the utility company who, in their opinion, did them a disservice. If the overbilling by the JPS is not classified as grievances then what is? This overbilling for which many consumers are unable to pay will now have GCT added for the sure disconnection that will follow. All this while the OUR sits and do nothing when, in fact, it can. Even though it does not see itself as consumer advocacy group, it has a number of divisions, such as the Consumer and Public Affairs.
This division deals with consumer affairs, communication and information. It is in this division that the works of an independent advisory group is facilitated. The name of this group is Consumer Advisory Committee on Utilities. If the OUR wants to intervene on behalf of its consumers/stakeholders, then it can do so directly or indirectly, or however it thinks fit. Not to do so will only make consumers question their relevance in face of this frontal assault on our pockets by the JPS.
And I must admit that the JPS, over the years, has lost a lot of revenue through electricity theft, but we must not forget that a percentage of that ‘lost revenue’ was recovered from us legitimate customers on the approval of no less than the OUR, which now stands impotent.
I am, etc.,
HOWARD D. HAMILTON