August 21, 2017 was an exciting day as an intern at the California ISO. While we gathered on the front lawn with solar glasses to watch the eclipse, the grid operators were at work balancing the grid. The California ISO operators were able to “keep the lights on” during the Great American Eclipse without any trouble, due to years of preparation for an event that’s more predictable than the weather. The drop of solar on California’s grid was compensated for by natural gas-fired plants and electricity imports.
As my internship comes to an end, I reflect on my exciting and education experience at the California ISO. With an electrical engineering background, I was worried because I haven’t taken many public policy and economics classes. It was good to see that many policy makers actually studied engineering in college, and learned policy skills on the job.
I also learned about the public policy process, from issue paper, to straw proposal, to draft final proposal. I learned technical writing skills when I got feedback about my writing, and I learned public speaking skills when I spoke at the Electric Power Research Institute meeting about new technologies to bring storage into the electricity market.
It was also really interesting to see how closely the policy team interacted with stakeholders. Businesses like Tesla or the Energy Storage Alliance always pushed for policies that would make them the most money or give them special treatment. And the utilities are generally reluctant to allow new, untested resources onto the grid since they are mainly concerned with reliability and don’t want to have to increase prices for ratepayers.
I also got a better understanding of the electricity market. One of my co-workers took time out of his busy schedule to teach a mini lecture series about how CAISO’s optimization tool worked, such as how LMPs (locational marginal prices) are calculated.
Overall, this internship has been an incredible learning experience. This internship also influenced the classes I’m taking senior year because it helped me realize what skills are valuable. I’m adding more energy classes, a public policy class, and perhaps an economics class to my schedule. I have a much better idea of what I would like to do in the future. I would like to work at the California ISO, but I am also interested in gaining more experience, maybe at a utility or at an energy research institute.
When I return to Stanford, I plan to visit the Electric Power Research Institute office in Palo Alto and meet some of the Stanford students that are doing work in the energy sector, because I want to continue learning and expanding my knowledge of the electricity market.
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