Mark Specht

Energy analyst

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Mark Specht is an energy analyst for the Climate & Energy program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. In his role, he works to generate new research and policy solutions for integrating renewable energy into power grids, and scaling down reliance on fossil fuels in electricity systems throughout the Western states.

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Gas plant in California with pipeline in foreground

Why Can’t California Shake Its Natural Gas Habit?

California is a national leader in clean energy generation, but to fully transition away from fossil fuels in the electric sector, the state will need to expand its focus beyond energy and start taking a hard look at capacity.

California has a resource adequacy program, which ensures that the state has enough electricity generating capacity at the ready to keep the grid reliable year-round. Up until now, the data about the types of resources (natural gas plants, solar, energy storage, etc.) being used to satisfy those reliability requirements has not been publicly available. But at the urging of UCS and other organizations, that information is now being made public.

So now the numbers are in, and they paint a startling picture of California’s continued reliance on natural gas. After taking you through the numbers, I’ll talk about some of the solutions we already have and the ones we might still need.

Sit down, folks. This will take your (energy nerd) breath away.

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John Ciccarelli, BLM.
California Energy Commission
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Moss Landing Power Plant stacks visible behind the dunes.

Why Isn’t California Turning Down the Gas?

California is currently going through a short-term hiatus on shutting down gas plants due to emerging grid reliability concerns. But in the long term, the state is well positioned to continue turning down the gas.

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Wayne Hsieh/Flickr
California Public Utilities Commission
Mark Specht
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A chromolithograph print of the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago
Bird's-eye view of the World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893 Library of Congress, no known restrictions on publication.

The Current War: Why Did Westinghouse (AC) Beat Edison (DC)?

As communities across California face widespread power outages and the debate over how to keep the grid reliable rages on, I decided to go to the movies for some historical context on our electric grid, seeing The Current War: Director’s Cut on opening night. With a big-name cast, my hopes were high, but the movie was just OK.

It’s a shame the movie wasn’t more compelling, because this is a fascinating story that deserves much more attention. The movie portrays the late 19th century “war” between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison that would ultimately determine which technologies were used to build the foundation of the electric grid we use today. While Edison championed direct current (DC) systems, Westinghouse promoted alternating current (AC) systems, and the competition between the two was fierce.

While walking out of the theater, I couldn’t stop wondering: why exactly did Westinghouse’s AC systems triumph over Edison’s DC systems?

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Library of Congress, no known restrictions on publication.
UCS
Creative Commons
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Aerial of smoggy day in Los Angeles, CA

Do Renewables Lead to Increased Air Pollution from California Power Plants?

California is a national leader in the transition to clean electricity, but integrating all that renewable energy onto the grid is no easy feat. Critics of renewables have long claimed that adding variable renewables (such as wind and solar) to the grid would force fossil-fueled power plants to operate less efficiently, leading to an increase in air pollution emissions. And as states start to integrate more renewables, those claims have come back.

But is this argument true? Do renewables really lead to increased air pollution?

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VIktor Hanacek/Picjumbo
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Up Close with California’s Power Grid Operator

I went on a tour of the California Independent System Operator.

“The who?” my parents asked me. “Never heard of them.” Read more >

FERC
CAISO
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