My initial desire for interning via Stanford Energy Internships in California and the West (SEICW) this summer was to pivot towards working in a public-sector role dealing with energy issues. As the process moved along, the internship at California Departmnet of Water Resources (DWR) kind of found me, rather than the other way around. I was inspired by an early conversation with my mentor and became intrigued by what the department was doing to keep up with a rapidly changing energy portfolio in California.
How does your role support the host organization's mission?
The DWR's State Water Project (SWP), whose primary purpose is water delivery, has a network of massive pumping and generating assets that move the water from the northern portion of the state to the southern. The Power & Risk Office (PARO), where I am interning, handles the contracts and compliance for the energy-related functions of the SWP. My role is focused on how to enable this water conveyance to happen economically in a shifting energy landscape.
How would you describe one of the projects you will be working on this summer?
I am in the midst of a study of pumped hydro storage at Oroville Dam, a study which has been undertaken in previous years but keeps gaining renewed relevance from updated expectations of future energy prices. I've been building a tool to more accurately estimate the cost-effectiveness of deploying pumped hydro storage, so that the department is able to make the best-informed decision when planning future strategies.
How does this project relate to your studies and/or career goals?
I draw upon a solid background in mathematics and software, but what I'm really interested in is being able to use those in a meaningful context. Getting a chance to try and apply those skills here at DWR has been a good test run for understanding how to navigate that intersection.
Has anything surprised you about the work, the organization, or the environment?
Being inside an organization like DWR certainly gives me a very different perspective on energy issues than what I've come to understand in my capacity as a student and a Californian. In particular, the energy market changes being pursued by the California ISO, which I have seen as logical consequences of the difficult but necessary path to 100% carbon-free electricity, enjoy some modicum of resistance inside the department, which is worried that it will have great difficulty controlling costs and complying with proposed changes. It is difficult to overstate the magnitude of the SWP's energy assets and thus its interest in this market. Its pumps consume around 5% of the state's electricity each year, while generating just over half that fraction. As a result, changes coming down the pipeline will impact the SWP in a very big way, with costs percolating down to the water contractors the project serves.