Tag Archives: blackouts

Time for CA to Invest in Renewable Energy Infrastructure

As the LA Times reports today, we may be looking at blackouts in So Cal this summer as energy demand outstrips the power capacity of the grid. And as anyone who was around for the great west coast blackout in the summer of ’96, what starts cascading in So Cal doesn’t necessarily stay there, especially on those hot July/August scorchers that cook us all the way up the Valley. The state’s grid manager put it in terms of lacking adequate production:

The state will have 489 megawatts of new generation in time for peak demand in July or August, some of that replacing a 122-megawatt plant that’s being retired. Southern California will need to rely on imports from Arizona, Nevada and Mexico, as well as conservation, to avoid blackouts.

Demand probably will increase by 1,000 megawatts this year over last year, Cal-ISO Chief Executive Yakout Mansour said during a conference call. Power demand peaked at 48,615 megawatts in 2007.

And yet this only looks at one side of energy load problems, that of supply. While it’s not reasonable to ask people to turn off their AC in a real heat wave – although the degree to which one cools is definitely somewhere that people can make up some slack – energy efficiency elsewhere in the state can squeeze enough energy to keep things from tipping over into blackout. In fact, when we were at a similar point of crisis last year, because some of the So Cal wildfires were burning up transmission lines, voluntary energy reduction was what kept things running. Ditto for the Enron-masterminded 2001 energy shortages. Conservation is a big part of any solution.

But over the long term, how do we get the Golden State out of this trap of summer grid overload without going to more fossil fuel-powered peak load generators that pump more carbon into the atmosphere (making our summer heat waves that much worse in the years to come)?

Wind, solar, passive solar building design, urban trees and especially thermal solar.

As North American natural gas starts to hit its peak production, wind and solar have gotten progressively more economically viable for private investors. But the predictable annual crisis of the CA heat wave really cries out for public funding. Every brownout or blackout brings economic activity to a grinding halt, and the spot prices hit a lot of businesses pretty hard as the tipping point is reached. It would make a good deal of sense not to just wait for PG&E to build the power plants of the future, but rather to get the state involved in funding a bunch of capacity right now. European wind design has far outstripped the wind technolology that California pioneered in the 70s, all we need to do is start putting wind farms up, along the Delta and offshore.

Likewise, given the correlation between summer heat waves and an overstressed grid, building thermal solar down the valley and in inland So Cal, the very places where the peak usage occurs, would seem to be a complete no-brainer. As the mercury rises, so would the production of electricity. Combine this with a statewide and urban subsidy for solar panels on roofs (and perhaps grants for the construction of solar panels covering parking lots, would help to decentralize the production of electricity and reduce net demand, and in so doing take some of the stress off the transmission lines.

If the free market was going to provide this critical infrastructure in time to avoid crisis, we wouldn’t have this problem. But they haven’t, so we do. It is time for the state and local governments to step up and nudge things in the right direction. In the long run, we ought to think about trying to reduce our total consumption by pushing for planting more urban tree cover, and more efficient housing and appliance design (and yes, personal changes in wasteful behavior), but if we want to avoid blackouts in the short run, it’s going to take more seed money from the state.

Of course, in the really long run, shifting our energy production away from carbon-producing fossil fuels will be the only way that we can avoid devastating heat waves and resulting blackouts. That the short term solution also works for the long run should be a reminder that both virtuous and vicious cycles tend to feed upon themselves. And it should be noted that just as with building the High Speed Rail line, sponsoring the construction of a bunch of thermal solar power plants down the valley, and wind in the Delta and along the coast would provide sorely needed jobs to communities already mired in endemic underemployment that are reeling from the collapse of the housing bubble.

And how to pay for it all? Well, a royalty tax on oil pumped in California, as is done everywhere else in the country, would seem a rather elegant solution.

originally at surf putah

California Declares Power Emergency

With thanks to Bonddad for alerting me to Bloomberg’s story:

California declared an electricity emergency as it braces for another power-demand record and the possibility of the most severe energy shortfall in five years because of a persistent heat wave.

A stage 2 emergency was declared at 1 p.m. local time by the California Independent System Operator, indicating that the reserve margin, a measure of surplus power, is below 5 percent. Utilities will be allowed to restrict power to some customers who accept cuts during emergencies in exchange for lower rates.

California, with an economy twice the size of Russia’s, has struggled to improve the reliability of its electricity system as a growing population spurs demand. The state said it may call the first stage 3 emergency, which would lead to rolling blackouts, since 2001, when an industry restructuring and market manipulation by traders led to widespread electricity shortages.

. . .

Rolling blackouts, if necessary, would likely be implemented for a couple of hours during the late afternoon today, Mansour said.
Electricity demand will exceed 52,000 megawatts, compared with a record 49,036 megawatts set at the end of last week, the system operator forecast on its Web site.
California would declare a stage 3 and call for rolling blackouts when the reserve margin is less than 1.5 percent. The state earlier today issued a stage 1 emergency alert, which is a public call for conservation, before upgrading it to a stage 2.

. . .

California is running commercials on 235 radio and TV stations calling for energy conservation. Schwarzenegger ordered state agencies to reduce power consumption by 25 percent by limiting air conditioning and lighting.

. . .

Meteorologists blame the scorching temperatures on high pressure that heats air, dampens sea breezes and reduces cloud cover.

. . .

“The high-pressure system is dominating the western portion of the country,” Diana Henderson, a National Weather Service forecaster in Monterey, California, said in an interview.
The heat and humidity led the weather service in Los Angeles to issue an excessive heat warning for southwestern California until at least 7 p.m. local time, indicating that a prolonged period of dangerously high temperatures will occur.
Yesterday in the Central Valley, temperatures soared to 113 Fahrenheit (45 degrees Celsius) in Modesto, beating a record of 105, while temperatures in Stockton topped 115, exceeding a record of 107, the weather service reported. The previous records were both set in 1960.

Oh, goody. This should be fun. Sigh…