Out West student blog

Finding the Energy Sweet Spot for California’s State Water Project

Kevin tours the Northern California Power Agency's Lodi Energy Center. NCPA has contracted with the State Water Project for work with electricity. (photo credit: Scott Jespersen).

By Kevin C. Zhu '20

Hometown: Shanghai, China
Intern, California Department of Water Resources




Why did you want to do this internship?

As an international student, I have been fascinated and perplexed by the function and regulation of electricity markets in California and the West. Through this internship at the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), I wish to gain a holistic understanding of California’s power market. Also, by studying this third largest energy source in California I hope to further develop my technical skills as they relate to the energy sector.

How does your role support the host organization's mission?

The Power and Risk Office (PARO) at DWR develops strategic programs to obtain reliable, environmentally friendly, and competitively priced power resources and transmission services to operate the State Water Project (SWP). My role at PARO is to explore options and develop plans to increase operational flexibility, allowing the SWP to participate in future renewable integration markets and products. We are working to shape SWP pump load to respond faster to over-generation periods and take advantage of the lower electricity prices.

How would you describe one of the projects you will be working on this summer?

One of my current projects involves finding the potential financial savings of the southern SWP pumping/generation plants by adopting future pumping schedule to the CAISO power market using third-party analytical forecasts. The new strategic planning will optimize the pumping schedule by moving loads from high-cost hours to low-cost ones. Since all components of the SWP are on the same string, I will also study the hydraulic impact (how water characteristic changes) caused by the load re-dispatching on other adjacent pumps/generating facilities.

How does this project relate to your studies and/or career goals?

My interests in high-performance buildings and deep energy efficiency at Stanford necessitate critical and integrative thinking. Since the SWP contains many interconnected components (e.g. dams, generators, pumps, aqueducts, and natural channels), changing one part of the system can have a dramatic influence on the others. Cosequently, working on flexibility-improvement projects will significantly help the development of important analytical thinking skills.

Has anything surprised you about the work, the organization, or the environment?

From my first few meetings at the PARO office, I realized how much my co-workers used acronyms and jargon in conversation. It always takes me a solid three seconds to decrypt each acronym and another few to recall its definition. Another area I am surprised with is how collaborative the state agencies are. In the past few weeks at the DWR, my mentors have already taken me to over seven meetings with organizatinos such as: California Independent System Operator (CAISO), Lodi Energy Center, Hyatt Power Plant, and the California Energy Commission (CEC).

View of the newly constructed Oroville Dam spillway. (photo credit: Kevin Zhu)


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