California’s new energy outlook predicts a record-breaking summer

The latest U.S. winter outlook spells trouble for dry California.

“The California energy outlook has changed more than any U.S. forecast in recent years,” said Scott Sheffield, senior director for climate and energy for the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). “From the very early 2000s, when the climate got warmer, California’s electricity use went up, not down. As a result, the grid is more stressed and more vulnerable.”

The new outlook, released Friday, projects that California will have a peak demand of 1,085 megawatts this summer, or just 3.3 percent of peak demand. This matches the last outlook, which projected 1,093 megawatts for this year, or 3 percent higher than what would happen naturally, Sheffield said.

The outlook also projects that the state will be able to meet its peak demand with natural gas, mostly from the Central Valley, by June at full capacity, and for other electricity generation sources, such as solar power and wind, by June to July.

“In other words, California will have a record-breaking summer this year,” Sheffield said. “That’s an embarrassment to us.”

California’s electricity use has been on the uptick for several years: The state had an average of 40 percent more electricity used between September and January than it did between January and July. That growth has continued with last year’s extreme dry spell of 18 months, followed in 2015 by a 25 percent run-up to peak demands.

“It’s hard to find a state on Earth or in the solar system that is as vulnerable to extreme dry weather that has a higher demand than California, especially the energy used in its heating and air conditioning,” Sheffield said.

The outlook now foresees an end to the current dry spell from January into July 2016, but it also expects a return to winter dry conditions, or more normal levels of electricity usage, in 2017. However, temperatures in the state are expected to drop significantly by then, Sheffield said.

He attributes much of the recent increase in demand to the California energy crisis: A shortage of electricity caused by a prolonged cold snap in the state in 2014 exacerbated an already-stressed electricity market. And the state’s population continues to boom in the face of low natural gas supplies.

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