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ISO quick facts

ISO Quick Facts

Energy Insights

May 2014  •  Issue 1

First words


A Message from the CEO:

Steve Berberich photoWelcome to the inaugural edition of "Energy Matters," from the California ISO. I am sure that you have heard that big changes are taking shape in the electric industry, but some of you may not be as familiar with the ISO. We plan and manage the flow of electricity for about 80 percent of California and part of Nevada. We also operate the wholesale electric market, which helps to lower costs for consumers.

As the power sector reduces its dependence on fossil fuels, dotting the landscape are large wind, solar, geothermal and biomass power sources that help clear the air. But renewable energy is not limited to utility-scale installations. Homes and businesses are also installing their own solar power systems. In effect, many California consumers are becoming power producers. The transition toward renewable energy and consumer-owned power represents the biggest change in our industry since the time of Thomas Edison.

We have created "Energy Matters" to keep you informed of changes in the power business that will impact your community, businesses and your personal lives. In this inaugural edition, we share information on changes to the electric grid in Southern California, which have been accelerated by the retirement of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. This edition also focuses on this summer's outlook, where power supplies will be affected by the drought. I hope that you find value in this publication and ask that you forward it to others who will find it of interest. We're happy to add additional names to our distribution list.

Steve Berberich, President and CEO

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Protecting reliability in Southern California

In 2013, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) was retired from service. Serving Southern California for over four decades, SONGS provided energy to nearly 1.5 million residents. The ISO and local utilities are now challenged to replace the lost electricity with other sources. Working with many other parties, the ISO is deploying a mix of clean resources, such as energy efficiency, energy storage and consumer demand response, which will complement natural-gas-fired power sources. The ISO is also authorizing new transmission lines and equipment to deliver additional power into the communities affected by the retirement of SONGS. By deploying new energy sources and upgrading existing infrastructure to carry additional energy, the ISO is helping to minimize greenhouse gas emissions, while maintaining grid reliability. Learn more about the ISO and our programs to green-the-grid.

Deploying new energy infrastructure is an important step. But it is equally important to deploy infrastructure that aligns with the State's environmental objectives. The ISO is helping to bring clean energy to California by supporting the development of "preferred resources," such as the following:

  1. Demand response - a program that requests consumers to reduce energy consumption, based on signals from the ISO or their utility, in return for a financial incentive.
  2. Energy efficiency - where customers are encouraged to reduce overall energy usage and incentivized to install efficient lighting, air conditioners and other equipment.
  3. New energy storage systems - batteries or other systems that store energy, then send it back to the grid when needed.

Although electricity cannot yet be stored on a large scale, the ISO believes that technology will soon enable energy storage to become a key ingredient in the design of the grid of tomorrow. Along with storage, preferred resources help the ISO to keep the grid in balance, because supply and demand must match at all times. And maintaining a balanced grid without relying solely on fossil-fueled power plants is good for the environment and aligns with California's environmental goals, one of which is to have 33 percent of the state's energy provided by renewable sources by 2020. Learn more about the State's goals.

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Summer is around the corner...and the grid is ready

It's no surprise that summer is the busiest time of year for the electric grid. As temperatures rise, so do electric demands. Each day, energy use grows fast in the morning as buildings turn on energy equipment such as lighting, air conditioning and computers. Demand levels out in the afternoon, then again rises quickly in the evening as people return home from work and turn on televisions, dishwashers and washing machines. At night, energy use trails off as consumers begin to go to bed. The sequence repeats again each morning.

The primary job of the ISO is to maintain power supplies to meet consumer needs, particularly in times when consumption is high. Each spring, we peer ahead and publish the Summer Assessment in which anticipated electricity demand is compared to available power supplies. This outlook helps the ISO to ensure that supplies are adequate, even during the hottest months. Despite California's severe drought and its impact on energy from hydroelectric dams, this year's summer outlook shows that there should be adequate electricity supplies, assuming no unforeseen major situations.

Air conditioning nearly doubles the amount of electricity needed during the summer. We plan for these increased needs so that the grid remains stable during hot weather. Infrequently, local areas can feel the energy pinch if demand exceeds the capability of the grid to carry power to consumers. The ISO prepares in advance for these rare situations. If the grid becomes overly burdened by high energy demands, we can ask electricity users to reduce their consumption for a short period of time.

Our first line of defense against supply disruptions is called the "Flex Alert." This is a simple appeal to residents and businesses to cut back on electricity use for a short time. Flex Alerts are a proven means to reduce energy demand for brief periods, thereby lessening the load on limited power supplies. Flex Alerts occur infrequently and the ISO appreciates consumers' response to our requests. Learn more about energy demands, power resources and Flex Alerts on and Also, click here to learn about programs to help consumers install efficient energy equipment.

The summer heat brings another challenge to the electric grid: wildfires. The ISO monitors the grid very closely during the summer fire season. We are constantly on the lookout for wildfires that might threaten high voltage power lines and we work closely with fire agencies to protect the grid as fires advance upon much-needed transmission wires. Because high voltage lines are strung high above the ground, the threat from wildfires is not about damage to the wires from the flames, but rather the smoke, which can act as a conduit and cause power lines to spark and trip off-line. With the help of state-of-the-art technology, the ISO assesses fire threats and quickly turns transmission lines on and off to keep power flowing during the summer heat, when it's needed most.

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Growing fast on the ISO grid: clean, green energy

Over just a handful of years, renewable energy has grown dramatically in California. The production from wind, solar, biogas, geothermal, biomass and small hydroelectric resources has skyrocketed in response to the State's goal to produce 33 percent of energy from renewables by 2020. Today, the fastest growing renewable resource is photovoltaic (PV) solar power, which is deployed in large solar farms where sunlight is directly converted into electricity. These PV cells are the same technology that consumers are installing on their rooftops. Another fast-growing resource is concentrated solar power in which sunlight heats a liquid that becomes steam and turns a generator to produce electricity. Across all renewable types of power, the ISO expects about 26,000 MW of renewables to be on line by 2020, nearly 19,000 MW of which will come from wind and solar. Click here to learn more about the state's renewables portfolio standard, and see what's happening in real time on the ISO grid here.

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PROFILE: Nick Messner - Grid Operations Supervisor

Profile PictureThe electric grid never sleeps. California consumers use electricity 24 hours a day, so the ISO's control center is always staffed and working to "keep the lights on." Because operating the grid is so important, our operators are specially trained and federally certified to monitor grid conditions and makes adjustments in real time. Every six weeks, grid operators undergo a week of intensive training to keep their skills sharp and learn new operating procedures.

Among the ISO's veteran operators is Nick Messner, a 9 year employee of the organization. Nick is a Shift Supervisor, which means he holds a lead role among fellow operators. One of six ISO shift supervisors, Nick has his "hands on the switch" of the electric grid; he is responsible for making moment-by-moment decisions about electric reliability and he understands the importance of keeping the power flowing. "We have a critical role and we take our work very seriously," says Nick, who adds, "30 million Californians count on electricity, every minute of the day. Businesses, schools, hospitals, residences and traffic signals rely on electricity, so it's really important that we make smart operating decisions and avoid power disruptions."

Nick is a graduate of California State University, Sacramento, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering with an emphasis on power systems. When not operating the grid, Nick spends his spare time in Lake Tahoe, on the beach in the summer and snowboarding in the winter. He lives in Carmichael, with his wife Molly, two kids, Mason and Sydney, and his dog Colby. Nick is certified by the National Electric Reliability Council as a Grid Reliability Operator and has taught Power Systems courses at California State University, Sacramento. The ISO salutes Nick and all of our employees who dedicate themselves to planning and operating California's reliable electric system.

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