California takes aim at 'ducks' to smooth move to green power

Mon Dec 23, 2013 8:00am EST
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By Braden Reddall

SAN FRANCISCO Dec 23 (Reuters) - From Daffy to Donald, the animation studios of Southern California have long portrayed ducks as just for laughs, but a graphical incarnation of the bird making the rounds in the state's power sector is being taken very seriously indeed.

California plans to generate a third of its energy from renewable sources by 2020, and regulators use what has become known as a "duck chart" to demonstrate the challenge presented by saddling their grid with increasing amounts of constantly fluctuating solar power.

The chart derives its nickname from its resemblance to the profile of a duck floating on its belly in the water.

Volatility is a dirty word to those charged with ensuring the lights, televisions and air conditioners remain on - no matter what. So the power industry beyond California will observe closely how the state pulls off its goal of achieving one of the world's most ambitious renewable energy targets.

The duck chart tracks power requirements throughout a typical day, with a flat "tail" in the morning giving way to an ever-fattening belly by midday as solar generation peaks and therefore less power from other variable sources is required.

The "neck" then represents the steepening rise in power demand when people get home from work around sunset and solar output drops - presenting grid managers with huge challenges.

Developers of energy storage systems say they have the answer. By setting aside power for later, the duck belly can be flattened and the neck lowered; several startups are trying to cash in on the demand for storage this has created.

"We're seeing a number of companies that are starting to go commercial," said Jon Wellinghoff, a former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. "They're beyond the R&D stages. They're beyond the product development stages."   Continued...