California needs to find more low-carbon, reliable energy resources to confront heat, drought and wildfires that will become more intense due to effects of climate change, energy officials said at a recent virtual conference.

The state, along with the rest of the West, is enduring its first hot spell of the summer, meaning California and its neighbors must work together to avoid "what happened in Texas" in February, California ISO Board of Governors member Angelina Galiteva said at the June 16 conference.

The California Energy Commission hosted the meeting, which was attended by CAISO and California PUC officials, as well as energy industry professionals.

"We have short-term [grid] issues," Galiteva said. "We have a drought, we have to downgrade the availability of hydro . . . so we have to ensure we have good relationships with neighboring states."

California imports power from adjacent states to help meet its peak demand, Galiteva said, adding, "We are all in this together. Until we have a Plan B, this is it."

As part of the reliability solution, Galiteva said the state could rely more on large electric vehicles that have rigid operating schedules, such as drayage trucks and school buses. The CEC in 2019 proposed grants to about 50 California school districts to replace their existing diesel school buses with new electric models. The California Air Resources Board in January set a goal to order about 800 zero-emission drayage trucks this year.

Conference panelists discussed numerous timely energy reliability subjects, such as recent battery energy storage technology developments and ways to use EV batteries to support the grid.

CEC member Siva Gunda reiterated Galiteva's outlook, stating that this year is bringing a confluence of problems, including extreme heat, extreme drought and low hydropower capacity. Gunda said officials should continue to focus on flexible-load approaches to high demand. Doing so will reduce the need to rely on bulk-sized energy resources, he said.

The CEC is currently developing new building design standards that would shift the times at which building appliances operate. Flexible-demand appliances can be adjusted to turn on at certain times of the day, such as when grid demand is low, thereby improving grid resiliency when demand is high. The appliances could shift a significant amount of statewide electricity load in the state.

The CPUC is also working on various demand-response and load-reduction programs that would kick in during high demand times, although some experts said that one of the new programs—the Emergency Load Reduction Program—could increase the use of backup diesel generators.

At the conference, energy storage industry representatives pitched new storage technologies that could help the state become more resilient and less reliant on backup fossil fuel-fired generators.

Eos Energy Enterprises, headquartered in New Jersey, builds zinc-based longer-duration battery storage units at its manufacturing plant in Pittsburgh, Penn., Eos analyst Brett Simon said at the conference.

The units have a three- to 12-hour discharge capability and are recyclable. Also, supply chain delays in their production are mitigated by sourcing 80 percent of components within a three-hour drive of the company's manufacturing plant, Simon said.

Sunnyvale-based Antora Energy also builds energy storage equipment, but uses a thermal storage technology.

The thermal battery stores intermittent energy, such as from wind turbines or solar panels, and then uses a thermophotovoltaic heat engine to convert heat back into firm electricity, Antora Energy co-founder Justin Briggs said at the conference.

Antora's energy storage unit has a 40 percent conversion efficiency, which indicates it is commercially viable, Briggs said. The CEC in March awarded about $3 million to the company to continue developing its technology.

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Staff Writer

David Krause is an energy reporter covering the California Energy Commission and Air Resources Board. He writes about transportation, climate change, utilities, and wildfires. He has an MFA in Writing, an MA in English, and a BS in Civil Engineering.