Renewables in the Mix

Last year, about 20 percent of the energy delivered to SCE customers was from renewable energy.

August 28, 2013 | By Vanessa McGrady

There’s a good chance that some of the electrons used to power your coffee maker this morning were generated by a renewable source: geothermal, wind, solar, biomass/biogas or small hydropower.

Last year, about 20 percent of the energy delivered to Southern California Edison (SCE)’s customers was from renewable energy, totaling 15 billion kilowatt-hours.  

“SCE will continue to seek to procure renewables technologies that have the lowest cost to our customers and the best fit to our portfolio to meet California's progressive renewables goals," said Katie Sloan, principal manager, Regulatory Policy.

Under California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard, the state’s aggressive goal is to reach 33 percent renewables of the total power mix by 2020 and SCE is on track to meet it. In 2012, SCE executed more renewable transactions than it had in the past few years combined.

“We are ‘technology neutral,’ meaning that we don’t prefer certain renewables sources or technologies over others,” said Sloan. “Rather, we look at all viable proposals and sign contracts for projects that are a good value for our customers. We don’t make money on power delivered to our customers. It’s a direct pass-through cost, so we focus on being good stewards of our customers’ dollars.”

Each renewable technology has its strengths and challenges. A good percentage of SCE’s renewable power mix — about 43 percent last year — comes from geothermal operations which use steam created by magma close to the Earth’s surface to drive turbines. These turbines in turn drive generators to create electricity. Geothermal is a “baseload” power source because it is capable of delivering energy 24/7.

Solar photovoltaic — the ubiquitous panels you see on rooftops or “farms” in unpopulated areas — can deliver power “on peak” during the hottest times of the day. But energy from solar photovoltaic facilities don’t deliver power when it’s dark, and can cut in and out if a cloud passes by.

Power from small hydro facilities, under 40 megawatts, is generally considered “dispatchable,” meaning it can be mobilized immediately when it is needed. But if it’s a dry year with low rainfall and snowmelt, that resource may be limited or unavailable.

Technology advancements are making renewable energy generation less expensive and more efficient. But because of factors such as costs for equipment, construction and operating costs including fuel and emissions over the plant life, renewable energy generation still remains more expensive than energy produced from other generation options, such as natural gas. 

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Topics: Customer Service, Infrastructure