At its monthly meeting on Tuesday, the LADWP board heard from general manager David Wright about the utility’s reponse to the July 6-10 heatwave. Wright said that from July 5th to July 6th, the temperature in downtown LA jumped 20 degrees, to 108 degrees… and power use went through the roof, setting an all-time record of 6,256 MW for a July day. According to Mr. Wright, it was like nothing the LADWP had ever seen before.
The heat snap was unusual not only in its suddenness, Wright said, but also in where the outages happened; instead of overground transformers failing in the Valley, the biggest problems were due to old underground transmission lines in Koreatown, Beverly Glen, Hollywood Hills, Windsor Square, Mid-Wilshire, and Sherman Oaks. That’s significant because underground line failures are a lot harder to locate and fix, which partly explains why it took so long some areas to get power back.
This suggests the DWP has caught up on replacing old transformers, and may want to make replacing old underground cables more of a priority when planning future preventative maintenance. Speaking of which, Mr. Wright showed how much the utility is spending each year to proactively replace old equipment before it fails; a 2016 rate increase dedicated to improving reliability helped speed up preventative work. The backlog of deferred maintenance is large, and even with the 2016 rate increase, may take over ten years to clear.
In his presentation, Wright also mentioned a number of other actions the utility is taking to improve future reliability. They’re hiring more linemen, working to improve retention of trained linemen (who are prone to be poached by other utilities at the annual Lineman Rodeo), and use longer planned outages as needed to complete critical improvements. They also hope to have a text messaging alert system in place later this year, and are working on a communications system which will help alert the utility to outages even before customers notice a problem.
Finally, Wright mentioned that http://ladwp.com/outages is the place customers should go to get updates on current outages. The page shows which outages have crews assigned or working at the moment. (It recently started showing a warning from Google Maps, though; I hope they get that sorted soon. Probably involves giving Google a credit card number…)
The meeting also featured an update on the LADWP’s efforts to join the Western Energy Imbalance Market, which will let LADWP trade power with other utilities to meet minute-to-minute needs. This effort was approved in 2017 and is now scheduled to go online in 2020. It’s expected to reduce costs and greenhouse gas emissions a bit, and provide another option for quickly responding to generator or transmission line failures. The EIM provides many of the benefits of the proposed expansion of CalISO into a regional grid without the drawbacks; for instance, utilities can stop participating in the EIM at any time without penalty.
The board also heard the June monthly update on power system status; of the 975 outages in June, 75 were caused by Mylar balloons. (There’s one more thing you can do to prevent outages: don’t buy Mylar birthday balloons!)
And last but not least, there was an update on renewable energy progress. For instance, the 90 MW Springbok 3 solar farm is now scheduled to enter service in April 2019, and the 10 MWh Beacon Solar battery is energized and expected to enter full service next month; both will reduce LADWP’s greenhouse emissions. The battery will help smooth out fluctuations, which not only helps grid stability, but also increases the amount of renewable energy that can fit on the transmission system.