The California Energy Security Project

(a.k.a. the CalEnergy project)

Project description

The California Energy Security Project (CalEnergy project) was a one-year effort, funded by NOAA, to determine the economic benefit of weather and climate forecasts to the energy industry. Standard weather forecasts of the type produced by the national weather service are already used in the energy industry, but climate science has shown that for certain problems, or at longer timescales (monthly or seasonal) some predictions can be made.  These forecasts aren't, however, currently used in the energy industry.  We wanted to find out why, how to make the climate forecasts useful, and what the economic value of those forecasts are.  The project ran from roughly fall of 2003 to fall of 2004.  As of summer 2005 the project is currently under a no-cost extension while the publications from the work are being written up.


Given the limited time available for completing the project, we decided to focus on the western U.S., and in particular on California.  This motivated our choice of participants.
  1. The project was led by Dr. Tim Barnett of the Climate Research Division, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO).
  2. Many of the climate forecasts were implemented by Dr. Eric Alfaro, who was a visiting researcher at SIO at the time (now at the University of Costa Rica), and by Dr. David W. Pierce, of the Climate Research Division at SIO.
  3. Interaction with stakeholders (i.e., energy industry participants) was coordinated by Dr. Anne Steinemann, who was at Georgia Tech when this work was done.  She has since moved to the University of Washington.
  4. The hydropower aspects of the work were done by Dr. Dennis Lettenmeier's group at the University of Washington.  In particular, much of the work was done by Nathalie Voisin, a graduate student in the group, and Dr. Alan Hamlet.
  5. We partnered with the California Energy Commission (CEC), in particular with Guido Franco and his co-workers, who provided an in-depth knowledge of the California energy utility industry.
  6. We brought SAIC into the project to provide expertise in the workings of the energy industry, and in how traditional weather forecasts are currently used in the industry. The SAIC part of the effort was headed by Dr. Mary Altalo, and largely implemented by Todd Davis, Lorna Greening, and Monica Hale of SAIC, and also Leonard Smith.
  7. The California Independent Systems Operator (CalISO), which runs the electrical grid in California, worked with us to define a problem of mutual interest (forecast of the California Delta Breeze) and are evaluating the usefulness of a statistical forecast of the delta breeze developed as part of CalEnergy.
  8. San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), an energy utility in the San Diego, CA area, defined a problem of interest to them concerning forecasting peak electrical load days at a leadtime of 3 days.
  9. PacifiCorp, an energy utility with a service region spread throughout the interior western U.S. (and particularly in Idaho, Utah, Oregon, and Northern California) supplied electrical load data for a problem they were interested in, which was forecasting farmer's irrigation pump electrical use a season in advance in the western U.S.

External Publications

The following publications describing the results and findings of the CalEnergy project have been generated with full or partial support from the project.
  1. Alfaro, E., Gershunov, A., Cayan, D., Steinemann, A., Pierce, D., and Barnett, T., 2004:  A method for prediction of California summer air surface temperature. EOS (transactions of the American Geophysical Union), 85, p. 553-557.
  2. Alfaro, E. J., Pierce, D. W., Steinemann, A. C., and Gershunov, A., 2005:  Relationships Between the Irrigation Pumping Electrical Loads and the Local Climate in Climate Division 9, Idaho. J. Applied Meteorology, J. Applied Meteorology, v. 44, p. 1972-1978..
  3. Alfaro, E. J., Gershunov, S., and Cayan, D., 2005: Prediction of summer maximum and minimum temperature over the western United States: The role of soil moisture and sea surface temperature. J. Climate, v. 19, p. 1407-1421.
  4. Altalo, M. G., and Smith, L. A., 2004: Using ensemble weather forecasts to manage utilities risk. Environmental Finance, October 2004.
  5. Davis, T. D., Gaushell, D., Pierce, D. W., and Altalo, M. A., 2005: Guessing Mother Nature's Next Move: What can be done to improve weather prediction and load forecasts? Public Utilities Fortnightly, August, 2005.  (Note: has other material in addition to the CalEnergy work.)
  6. Voisin, N., A. F. Hamlet, L. P. Graham, D. W. Pierce, T. P. Barnett, and D. P. Lettenmaier, 2006: The role of climate forecasts in western U.S. power planning, J. Applied Meteorology, v. 45, p. 653-673.
In addition to these works, a number of manuscripts for external publication are either under preperation or are in the review process.  These include one by Anne Steinemann that is a overall summary of the project; one on the Delta Breeze by David Pierce; and one by Leonard Smith looking at optimizing forecast skill by using the proper weighted assemblage of various weather forecasts. 

Internal Publications

In addition to the external publications listed above, the project generated a number of interim progress reports and reports on certain aspects of the project.  Some of those that include results and findings of the CalEnergy project are listed below. Note that in making these documents publicly available, we have rescinded the company-specific costs. This is by agreement with the companies who shared the data.  In any event, the intent of the project is to devise widely applicable methods; the actual specific costs are idosyncratic to a particular company and so note widely applicable.
  1. Project final report.  The format of this final report is specified by our funding source, who strictly limit the length of these documents.  More detail on the project than can fit into the final report can be found in the individual quarterly reports and other documents given below, in addition to the external publications noted above.
  2. Lessons Learned document. This is a brief summary of what I like to call the "lessons we learned" being in the academic climate sciences and working on a project with energy industry participants.
  3. Quarterly reports. We chose to add each quarter's accomplishments into the existing quarterly report document, with the result that the last of the quarterly reports, from Q3, contains work from all three quaters.  Note that there is no Q4 report because that was done as the project final report, above, since it was a one-year project.  Despite this, each individual contributor to the project generated their own separate Q4 progress report.  A particularly interesting on is that from Nathalie Voisin and Dennis Lettenmaier's group, as it briefly summarizes the work on the hydropower aspects of the CalEnergy project.  A fuller treatment of this aspect of the work is contained in the manuscript Voisin is authoring.
  4. Pierce, D. W., 2004: Effects of the North Pacific Oscillation and ENSO on seasonally averaged temperatures in California. CAP/CCCC Report No. 3.
  5. SAIC deliverable 5: Forecasting of irrigation pump loads in Idaho climate division 9, and operational use of probability forecasts: cross-validation and real-time updating.
  6. SAIC deliverable 4: Improved prediction of peak load days, and use of ensemble forecast methods for improved electrical load predictions.
  7. SAIC deliverable 3: Improving predictions of the California Delta Breeze, a study done in association with the California Independent Systems Operator (CalISO).  [Note: SAIC deliverables 1 & 2 were more involved with planning the project, and so are not of general interest.  Deliverables 3, 4, and 5 contain results and findings of the project.]


We have found many people to be interested in this work, and have presented its findings to a wide range of audiences.  A fairly complete list of the people we have presented it to is included at the end of the project final report, linked to above. Naturally, many of these presentations show a common base of figures and text, and so need not be repeated.  A representative sample of the presentations we have given on this work include the following.
  1. A public presentation given at the California Energy Commission (CEC), on August 30, 2004.  This is a very complete version of the material, including most of the case studies and the hydropower work.
  2. A special SIO "California Issues Forum" on the subject of climate and energy, held at SIO on Nov 22, 2004.  This is a brief presentation, which however focuses on the larger issues involved in making climate forecasts for energy industry decisionmakers.
  3. A public lecture given at the Birch Aquarium at SIO on September 13, 2004, titled "Climate and Energy in California."  This presentation includes some of the motivating factors that got us interested in the energy question in the first place.  Global climate change predictions suggest a warmer future for California (more electrical demand for air conditioning) and less water reserve in the snowpack (less hydropower generation).  The combination of more demand and less supply of electricity obviously is of concern to the energy industry. This lecture was broadcast on UCSD-TV, and subsequently on the University channel.
  4. A presentation made on Capitol Hill in Washington D. C., as part of "NOAA climate day," June 16, 2005.  The purpose of this event was to show members of congress and staffers an example of how NOAA-funded projects are intended to tackle real life issues.  (Two other presentations were given in addition to ours on CalEnergy.)

Contact Infomation

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Page last updated 1 September 2006