Mark Jacobson: Backing Up a Clean Grid

October 27, 2022

Mark Jacobson on Stanford posted a new interview where he talks about how an increasingly clean grid will be firmed up thru the course of the day.

Reminded me os some conversations I’ve had with researcher Jonathan Koomey and Amol Phadke of UCLA about how existing gas turbines will help to manage the gradual conversion to a renewable grid. There is an assumption, for instance, in the study that Phadke authored on the path to a 90 percent renewable grid, that existing gas facilities will be managed to deal with those times where sun and wind are low, such as some times during North American winter.
As energy storage and transmission improve, thee need for that backstop will steadily decline.

Jacobson, also touches on how demand management and “virtual power plants” will play a role.


Tesla’s virtual power plant in California had its first emergency response event helping the grid by pooling power from Powerwall owners around the state. The event appears to have been a success as the distributed power plant looks like the future.

A virtual power plant (VPP) consists of distributed energy storage systems, like Tesla Powerwalls, used in concert to provide grid services and avoid the use of polluting and expensive peaker power plants.

Last year, Tesla launched a VPP pilot program in California, where Powerwall owners would join in voluntarily without compensation to let the VPP pull power from their battery packs when the grid needed it.

It helped Tesla prove the usefulness of such a system.

Following the pilot program, Tesla and PG&E, the electric utility covering Northern California, launched the first official virtual power plant through the Tesla app in June.

This new version of the Tesla Virtual Power Plant actually compensates Powerwall owners $2 per kWh that they contribute to the grid during emergency load reduction events. Homeowners are expected to get between $10 and $60 per event.

Earlier this week, we reported that Tesla’s California VPP expanded to Southern California Edison (SCE) to now cover most of the state.

Just days later, the Tesla VPP had its first emergency response event. Tesla reached out to Powerwall owners who opted in the program through its app yesterday to warn them of the event and give them the option to opt-out if they needed all the power from their Powerwalls (that day):

I think we are starting to witness the beginnings of a true smart grid backed by distributed energy assets, which is something that has been talked about as the future of the electric grid for a long time, but it’s finally happening.

Now that Tesla is showing that this is working smoothly on a significant scale, I think we are going to see massive growth of those systems, and the economics of them are just going to get better.


3 Responses to “Mark Jacobson: Backing Up a Clean Grid”

  1. Mark Jacobson is losing his grip. He’s looking haggard and forgetting to shave. No, there is NOT enough hydro power and Lake Mede and the water behind China’s Three Gorges dam are drying up!

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      He said hydropower was big in Canada as a baseload, but can be converted to covering peak demand instead.

      There are plenty of places in the US where hydropower and pumped hydro are still viable.

      Yes, we all know that Mead and Powell are going away with the increasing aridification of the US Southwest (and also that current wet nuclear power plant technology is definitely an inappropriate replacement). Places that depend on Hoover Dam and especially Glen Canyon Dam will have to convert to a power source appropriate for deserts (PV and battery, or maybe “dry” nukes or concentrated solar power).

    • rhymeswithgoalie Says:

      As for Three Gorges Dam, you’ll be happy to know that China will continue to build nuclear power plants, wind farms, and vast solar arrays (shared with sheep).

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