What Is The Cause Of The Recent Power Blackouts In California?

  • Date: 17/08/20
  • Francis Menton, Manhattan Contrarian

California has put itself in a position where regular intentional blackouts are inevitable. As more and more reliable fossil fuel and nuclear facilities get closed in favor of wind and solar, the problem looks set to worsen dramatically over the next several years.

You may have read in the past few days that residents of California have been experiencing rolling power blackouts. This has occurred in the middle of a strong heat wave, meaning that large numbers of people have had their air conditioning, light, refrigeration, and everything else dependent on electricity, go out just when they are most needed. The blackouts have not been the result of technical failures of the grid, but rather have been intentionally imposed by the electricity system operator (known as CAISO — California Independent System Operator) via the various local utilities.

So what has caused these blackouts? The official explanation is that the heat wave is the cause. It has just gotten so unusually hot that demand has risen beyond the capacity of the system. Many articles in the media reporting on the situation go further to associate the unusual heat with “climate change.”

This explanation is complete BS. Yes, there is a strong heat wave going on, at least in certain areas of the state, but it is not unusual in historical context. In fact what is occurring is that California has begun to face the consequences of replacing reliable fossil fuel and nuclear powered electricity with the intermittent renewables, wind and solar. In the evening, approximately 7 to 9 PM, when the sun has set and the heat lingers, and when the demand for electricity for air conditioning reaches a peak, the intermittent wind and solar sources have been producing just about nothing. With insufficient fossil fuel backup, there is not enough power to meet the demand.

In short, we are witnessing the results of almost unbelievable incompetence by the authorities in California. As usual, the equally incompetent and corrupt media are completely giving the authorities a pass in the name of supposedly addressing “climate change.”

First, consider the heat wave. It is fair to call what is currently going on in some major cities like Los Angeles and San Jose a serious heat wave (although the situation in other major California cities like San Diego and Santa Barbara is not a heat wave at all). In Los Angeles, the average daily high for mid-August is 84 deg F. The highs for the past three days have been 93, 98 and 95. For the rest of the upcoming week, forecast highs are all in the 90s, with Wednesday the highest at 98. On the other hand, in Los Angeles, the temperature goes over 100 deg F at least once or a few times most years. Here is a list of record high temperatures in Los Angeles by year. In 2018 it hit 108; in 2010, 113; in 1990, 112; in 1988, 110; and so forth. The large majority of years have records at 100 or above. In short, there is nothing unusual or unexpected in summer temperatures at the level being experienced this week.

So with temperatures at or above the current levels a regularly recurring phenomenon, why haven’t the authorities planned accordingly and put in place resources to meet the demand? The answer is that under a law enacted in 2018, California has embarked on a crazed program to generate 50% of its electricity from “renewable” sources by 2025, 60% by 2030, and 100% by 2045. Both before and after enactment of that law, California has been ambitiously expanding its capacity for wind and solar generation of electricity.

To put this in some context, the peak electricity demand that has been causing California’s problems during the current heat wave is in the range of 42 – 46 GW. (Today’s peak demand was about 44 GW.) To meet this demand, you could put in place a system of fossil fuel and nuclear plants with a capacity of around 55 GW, which would give you a comfortable cushion to deal with whatever maintenance issues or mishaps might arise.

According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Agency, California actually has installed electricity generation capacity of almost 76 GW. That sounds like wildly more than you would ever need. But the problem is that of the 76 GW of capacity, some 27 GW is solar, and 6 GW is wind. In August the solar goes into steep decline around 4 PM and ends completely around 7 PM. The wind more or less doesn’t blow at all during heat waves. And thus you get a profile of electricity generation from the renewable sources that looks like this (this is the report of generation from renewables in California for August 14, 2020, per CAISO):

caiso-renewables-trend-20200714.png

As you can see, the solar generation hit zero somewhere between 7 and 7:30 PM. The wind generation hovered somewhere between 1 and 1.5 GW through the evening hours. The word “useless” is hardly sufficient to describe the situation.

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