California electrical utilities and government has failed on forest management and failed on managing the electrical grid. PG&E will regularly cut power from September to February each year for the next 14 years to around 2 million people. Another 1 million will get regular power cuts from Southern California Edison.
The forest mismanagement means that many communities and houses are at risk of being burned. The electrical grid and growth around power lines has been poorly maintained for decades.
There needs to be a national emergency declared and the national guard deployed to assist in clearing trees and growth. National Emergencies were already declared to fight wildfires but the deployments need to be used to get the maintenance under control.
People in the most fire-prone areas are already experiencing their second multi-day mass-blackout event. Power outages could end up being 10-30% of the time during the fire season.
Millions of Californians in fire-prone areas (NAPA, Sonoma, parts of LA) clearly cannot rely on PG&E and Southern California Edison for power. About 500,000 people in Northern California are again without electricity. PG&E cut power again. Southern California Edison has cut power to about 15,000 customers early in the day and warned that almost 300,000 more could see preemptive outages. Each customer is a household or business with an average of 2.5 people. So 300,000 customers is 750,000 people.
If we ballpark the economic impact, we have 1 million people losing power in Northern California 15% of time for 4 months and 1 million people in Southern California losing power 5% of the time for 4 months. This would be 24 million person-days of power outages every year. This would be about 0.8% of California’s GDP or about $13 billion.
There was $30 billion in fire-related property damage in the past two years that was caused by PG&E.
The weather service warned that low relative humidity and gusty winds will continue to lead to dangerous conditions favorable for the spread of wildfires across sections of northern California on Thursday. Another round of strong winds –which the weather service is calling “the strongest wind event so far this fall” – is forecast for Sunday and Monday, which could lead to more preemptive outages.
California’s government of forest management service has not done enough controlled burns to create half-mile wide fuel breaks to prevent fires from getting too large or to create zones to protect cities and towns.
Fire-season can last for 3-5 months.
PG&E has said that they will need 10-14 years to bury power lines and get on top of the tree and growth around poorly maintained power lines. The PG&E website warns of preventative power blackouts and for customers to make their own plans. PG&E plans are to continue to fail for 10-14 years. California’s government has failed. Both have failed for decades but they were acutely aware of the obvious issues with three years of bad wildfires and they have still made no progress.
Customers have to plan and install their own long-term viable electrical alternatives (solar roofs with inverters to allow grid isolation and large battery storage).
California voters need to vote in new leadership that will get the emergency level activity needed to get forests fixed in 1 year and to force the break-up PG&E.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
A frequent speaker at corporations, he has been a TEDx speaker, a Singularity University speaker and guest at numerous interviews for radio and podcasts. He is open to public speaking and advising engagements.
68 thoughts on “Millions Must Get Solar and Batteries or Live Without Utility Power”
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While California is deservedly suspect due to its proclivity in pushing smug state policies nationwide- I personally doubt that this is one of those occasions. They made it too risky for the utility to operate in these conditions, and this is where we are.
And those low flow showers- ugh. I used to travel with tools and I’d take those restrictors out, while I was checked in.
“Millions Must Get Solar and Batteries or Live Without Utility Power”
What?! They can get dual fuel propane/gasoline generators instead. $450 for 3800 watts, $820 for 8300 watts.
No must there at all
Cost/benefit doesn’t necessarily come to that conclusion.
Wouldn’t it be cheaper to just abandon 500,000 homes in California? Median home price in places like Fresno are $250k. That’s half the price.
As Barry Soetoro once said, “elections have consequences”. Crap and needles in the streets, shrinking middle class, very poor education, high taxes, high regulation, less constitutional freedoms, and now they can enjoy all of the above in the dark.
You’re really not paying attention are you? Trump is no traitor to the country and what the media and dems (I know, same thing) are doing is reprehensible. Following the headlines without applying critical thinking to what is going shows a dangerous laziness that is creating a huge problem for this nation.
Note, I did not vote for Trump.
I disagree with Brian that this is an emergency that requires federal intervention. California created this situation, it is not a natural disaster. California can fix it. On their own.
But Texans helped elect a traitor. You must be proud.
There are some other problems with the pots and pans you in particular own so even on a gas range there are a lot better choices than the particular ones you’ve got. Though, cooking on cast iron is a personnel choice to trade advantages against disadvantages. I can’t say the same for aluminum pots or pans and I really think pots with rivets are a pain to clean.
Rick, you have no idea how electric utilities work. This one is a regulated monopoly by the state of CA. PG&E has what is called an allowed rate of return set by the utility commission in the state of California. So, yes, it is a CA problem. The profits are allowed and set, after a review, by the California state commission.
Brett, aluminum pans are really a bad idea. They leech aluminum into your food. You need a traditional French crepe pan anyway. I don’t think Alcald pans, with the rivet through to the handle, are easy to clean, so I again, I don’t think you can defend them as being all that great. And cooking with Pyrex on the stove top is dicey at best. Regardless of what top you cook on… it’s time for an upgrade… 😉
By the way, the earthquakes here in California are just as liable to knock the gas service out as the electric but if you have solar and backup batteries, you’ll have electricity to cook with (at least to some extent.)
“Of course you need decent pots and pans”
IOW, no, they don’t work better, unless you have the right cookware; You’re defining “decent” in terms of “works with an induction hob”.
My frying pans are cast iron, some of them over 150 years old. OK, they pass.
Oh, but my crepe pan is aluminum. Nope, doesn’t work.
My soup and stock pots are Alclad. Nope, don’t work.
Good thing I only use pyrex in the oven, doesn’t work.
Guess what: A gas cook top works with EVERYTHING. And, it works during power outages, too. And you can even roast marshmallows over it, try that with your fancy induction hob.
The spokes people for PG&E wear black safety vests because they sense they are done. California has all of their transmission lines > 50000volts operated by the CAL-ISO a quasi governmental agency. With the state operating the transmission, municipalities can offer to buy the distribution in their purview for the taxable value of the system. If PG&E doesn’t want to sell then sue them for failure to provide power and condemn the system and pay them fair market value based on property tax value. Each municipality can repair their system far faster than PG&E and keep the lights on. Remember over 80 people died because of utility incompetence public safety should demand independence from incompetence.
You are fantasizing at a distance about a hoard of bogeymen that don’t exist. Sure there are a nihilistic crazies on both ends of the political spectrum but they don’t hold sway in California.
Induction hobs actually work better than gas stove tops (of course you need decent pots and pans) and electric ovens work just as well as gas.
Batteries may have low energy density (cost) compared to hydrocarbons, but they have what HCs do not. Instantaneous response. Live power. Motor-generator systems either are off, on-standby, or on. On-standby uses up a lot of fuel, waiting call to provide power.
And even ‘on’ may not provide particularly limitless amounts of well priced power.
Hence why in municipal systems, the “competent battery” need not last more than 5 or 10 minutes.
They should apply to the state for permission to do maintenance as soon as possible!
Batteries have very low energy density compared to hydrocarbon fuels such as propane. They are also much more expensive if trying to backup your power for multi-day time frames. It may be doing California power consumers a favor to put them under this threat. For at least a few, it will force them to think seriously about what it takes to provide their own power in support of their lifestyles.
Maybe PG&E will turn into a gigantic public owned utility? Break up their assets into the various buckets? I could very well see this scenario but not sure what the consequences will be for customers. Probably a significant increase in rates.
Happens when you use political partisan “facts” to make statements and proclamations to people who do the modicum of research. 🙂
Yes, solar power really only works well with a good grid, which is quite irrelevant to whether people who hate modern industrial society want it to work, rather than just want to cause things to break down.
Yes, some appliances really don’t need to be gas. Stoves are not among them!
How about from a different angle… fractal resilience.
On the scale of one’s cell phone, it has a battery so that it might not have to be tethered to a power supply in order to work. “(duh)”
On the scale of one’s house, we could buy a combo of solar panels, battery banks and possibly also a natural gas or propane based backup generator. Power goes down, flip a few breakers, kick in the battery-inverter until the backup genset takes over when the (solar panel output minus domestic demand) exceeds battery capacity. Ta, da.
But on the scale of a neighborhood, mightn’t there be collective ‘economies of scale’ for a municipality to provision a much larger PV setup, a larger … but only designed “for minutes at most” of battery, and a larger, well maintained natural gas or propane backup generator?
Lets be realistic: almost no one understands power. So, 95% of a community is power-ignorant. Shouldn’t municipalities protect their own power resources? Collectivism at its finest.
And even more broadly… the cities of a county, collectivizing part of their resilience funding … for even larger PV and primary generators, always spinning, always able to handle the FULL load, should it be needed.
Perhaps we really need to think of the middle layers.
Flesh out the fractal resilience model.
You are jumping to the wrong conclusion. Solar power really only works well with a good grid.
Note, some appliances really don’t need to be gas…
Don’t hold your breath…
To start with they obviously don’t need to replace all their lines and also maybe the problem decreases sufficiently in some area if they simply maintain their lines and the vegetation near by….
They all lie.
Only successful cites have severe homelessness problems… clearly not a problem in Texas….
It’s not illegal for them to maintain their lines is it? Of course when you say around their lines that’s not the same thing as under their lines.
People with medical needs for power should get free solar and/or backup batteries from PG&E. Everybody else in places where shutdowns will likely occur need to do it on their own, though California still might have subsidies available. In the end PG&E will be only be a shell of it’s previous self.
By the way it’s a bad idea to use the National Guard to trim vegetation unless they get the special training on how to do it safely and also get the proper equipment to do it. Both of which are expensive and time consuming. This won’t do anything about the condition of the lines which requires trained linemen who paid high wages and are in great demand.
See… I just don’t think so.
PG+E is not a terrorist organization; it doesn’t have a mandate to terrorize the public; it has no guidance to foment a revolution or cite false cause against any citizen or representatitive group. I propose we stipulate that PG+E is a faceless, semiconscious, self-aware Aggregate Intelligence. A kind of sociological AI that has often risen to power, preëminence and position for largely monopolizing SOMETHING of importance.
Their mission remains beyond argumentum: to safely provide the power carried by electricy and natural gas, to the addicted consumers of it, for a price.
The price is high enough to fund its multigenerational retired employees pensions. Its product raises enough profit above cost to also fund next-generation power technology generation and distribution, next-generation grid supervision and defensive maintenance, and so on.
And, let me tell you…
That price is high.
18¢/kWh if you just run LED night-lights in your bathroom … for the month.
23¢/kWh if you’re cobbling along the smartphone charger, fridge and a washing machine.
28¢/kWh thereafter for all HVAC, all extra appliances, extra what-do-you-do.
$46¢/kWh if you go over the Magical Abuser limit of 3× …
It cost about $3 million per mile to replace above ground power lines with underground power lines. So with 81,000 miles of distribution lines in California, that would cost Californians about $243 billion. There’s no way this could be completely done at an affordable pace in less than twenty or thirty years, IMO. However, during the burying of power lines– every year– the grid should gradually become safer than the previous year.
Power outages should be dealt with by providing back up power to local communities in the form of renewable methanol electric power plants of various types and sizes. Perhaps the state could pay 50% of the cost for any utility, business, or home owner that purchases backup methanol electric power units. Portable methanol power units are already sold. And large natural gas power plants are cheap to build and can be easily and cheaply modified to use methanol.
Renewable methanol can be produced from the pyrolyis of urban garbage and sewage, agricultural waste, and forest waste (dead trees and other potentially harmful foliage in the forest). Methanol is easy to store and only has to be used during power outages.
You got that backwards, good sir.
PG+E is in the business of buying, making, transporting, vending and billing electrical and natural gas power. To do so, they also try to maintain maximal system availability, given … wind, rain, snow, mudslides, rockfalls, earthquakes, vehicle impacts, determined terrorists, idiots and errant weasels.
That’s their business.
A MAJOR part of their business is centered on the engineering discipline of balancing growing risks and suit- (and loss-of-revenue- ) costs against the ongoing maintenance budget of goods and services.
As a for-instance, take any of the long high-voltage transmission lines that criss-cross the state.
Many have long runs of tree-lined forests thru which they are moored. The transmission lines are relatiely timeless … if one were somehow to “just stand there” for a 100 years, it’d very likely still be running. But the trees grow, and grow, and grow.
And get bugs, and weaken … and become ever-more-prone to toppling when a wind-storm rises.
Now, PG+E really, REALLY wants to avoid having trees topple onto their lines. But there are hundreds-of-millions of trees. Not all of which are a threat.
So, they try to take care of them.
And clearing weeds.
Is this 100% effective?
But pretty much 99.999% or better.
On a per-tree basis.
What we need are large seaplanes to dump lots of water…as simple as that. Helicopters just don’t cut it. We used to have these things. I think we sold the last of them to Canada.
California does have one medium/large plane but it is not a seaplane and takes upwards of 15 minutes to fill up. And it has to use an airport.
Seaplanes can just skim the surface of the water and fill it all up in a minute or two. Then right back to the fire.
China will be making these things. We stopped several decades ago. Russia the other maker also stopped making these thing decades ago.
The reason China is going to be making these is to have lots of options at all those islands it is making and claiming.
But they are going to be made for export as well: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AVIC_AG600
One load can put 820,000 lb of water on a fire.
This latest fire they knew about when it was much less than 5,000 acres. If they had 5 or 6 of these planes, they could have easily put the fires out. Even if we put in an order today it would probably take 3 or more years to take delivery. And sense California is large we probably need at least 12…for when there are multiple fires…which is common.
In the interim, they could use drones: https://www.wired.com/story/bell-apt-70-cargo-drone-test-flight/
With drones you can get there quickly and drop your water/retardant precisely. But you will need a lot of them. You probably need a satellite to detect fires very early in conjunction with the drones.
Why are they trying to jam environmentally conscious choices down our throats? Who for that matter wants local control of their own power sources. (Well, that idea doesn’t seem so bad.)
The reason housing is so expensive in places like LA and San Francisco, is a combination of high property taxes and regulation preventing people from developing more housing. Or, to be more specific, more low-income housing.
Look, I don’t want to give California too much grief but it really does have a ton of problems. Many of which are a result of it’s own policies. Not all of them of course. Some of the states issues can be traced to federal policies as well. Even so, the state is very expensive to live in and therefore isn’t a very attractive place to live for the middle class and poor. That’s a problem, and really is something that shouldn’t be waved off.
To ACTUAL text of law.
Citation with link?
Can we please start citing laws with hyperlinks instead of just making claims about what the law entails.
Here for instance is a PG&E website explaining some laws MANDATING clearance for different types of electrical poles/towers.
It’s the 7th largest economy. It used to be the 5th largest. It’s also has the highest wealth disparity in the nation.
China is the world’s second largest economy and is a brutally oppressive regime. So, what, precisely, is your point?
It’s illegal for PG&E to clear the land around its lines. It’s illegal for PG&E to upgrade its infrastructure without approval of numerous environmental agencies.
PG&E isn’t the problem.
Hint: If you incorrectly identify the problem, you will never get a solution.
It’s illegal to clear the trees. Thank you environmentalists.
I know three families (parents and 2 brothers with their own families) who just moved out of Ventura a couple of months ago for a lower tax state that actually allows them to get a carry license and own a standard capacity magazine for a non-prohibited rifle. IOW, they left for a free state.
It’s a conscious strategy on the part of renewables advocates: They’re aiming to force people to switch to distributed solar power by destroying the grid. Make their preferred policy unavoidable by ruining any alternatives.
The new madness? They’re pushing to outlaw natural gas appliances. And it’s metastasizing, they’re exploring doing it in Seattle, too. If they can succeed on the Left coast, they’ll try to take it national, the way they did with low flush toilets and showers that just drool on you.
Yeah, my brother lives in Ventura. He’d move out of there in a heartbeat, but his wife’s elderly parents live nearby, and she won’t agree to move away from them. Which is hard to argue with, when we’ve lost our own parents, and regret no longer being able to visit.
Beautiful state, I visit occasionally, but you couldn’t pay me to live there.
Berkeley is on the list of cities that might have power cut…
Outlandish factual statement combined with lack of links with supporting info (this is the friggin internet so no excuse) means liar.
Hmm..how did PG&Es contract with their contractors end then?
Answer: because you lie.
Prevention includes clearing the 150 million dead trees on this map .gif
You’re a chronic lair or just incompetent?
As a recent Filipino said, reminds him of home, though PG&E at least preannounces the blackouts…
I still don’t understand the hate for helicopter flying saws. What’s not to like?
The more affluent areas are not suffering the blackout syndrome. Should those areas begin experiencing a lock-step blackout every time a scheduled shutdown occurs, a more timely solution will be found.
The B.S. conservatives focus on in CA is the nonsense that goes on in politics and the western part of the state. There are many conservative communities that attract normal people. You have a lot of young and dumb people who move there along with the tech crowd. The wealth being created by tech allows so much of the crap that goes on there to continue. Nonsense always comes to an end, eventually. Your state’s stupidity will end when the money leaves. It’s just math.
Yes, PG&E are terrorists. Why do you use their product? What does that make you? CA sets rules that impose massive liabilities to PG&E. PG&E is mitigating the risk of lawsuits your state opened them up to. They are not allowed to clear cut areas around the wires etc. It’s CA fault for setting the rules the way it has. Common sense about fire mitigation was thrown into the trash by your legislators. Vote in new politicians, or pay the bills PG&E demands to fix the problem your state made. You live in a state that allows people to take a dump on the sidewalk, but outlaws plastic bags and drinking straws. CA has prioritized the wrong things and the citizens are paying for it.
Increased Forrest fire budget is exactly wrong! Government has been converting Wildlands into tinderbox nightmares for about a hundred years now. Someday you all will learn, land makes fuel. Ya can log it and graze it and harness nature or you can let it her build and burn. Oh and building in this, if your neighborhood/government refuses to manage it is suicidal.
Brian, your economic calc assumes someone without grid power has zero productivity, that is a crock. Rural America was very productive before REA.
Very few solar panels have been installed such that they can be used when the grid is down. So between the crazy cost of cells+batteries, difficulties finding & installing everything this not a solution for most people.
Regarding PG&E putting things right, underground, etc. I am not surprised it could take over a decade, what with watermelon protestors, laws judges & lawyers in crazy Cali, this sounds about right. The folks in these areas are reaping the “insanity of crowds” most of whom are unaffected. Start by fixing that. It should take about one generation and be about as easy as fixing the grid.
California is a drop-dead gorgeous state – I’ve been there several times, and that hasn’t changed. Along the coast, the weather is just superb for most of the year. So I can see why people have always wanted to live there. It USED to be the prime example of American capitalism and the definition of the Land of Opportunity…but the Leftists have been doing their damnest to ruin that for several decades now. A lot of people haven’t caught up to the political reality of that yet, so they still want to live there. That there are a lot of conservatives who are “trapped” there because of their job or something in their personal lives is beyond question – as is the fact that they are utterly unrepresented. Taxes are obscene, and the rules governing rules themselves have rules. California still has its good climate, but in terms of business and common sense from government, let’s just say that’s its best days are LONG past.
“Pro-family” hahahaha… The government doesn’t give a shit about you and your family or anyone else’s for that matter.
“Millions Must Get Solar and Batteries or Live Without Utility Power”
What?! They can get generators instead. $450 for 3800 watts, $820 for 8300 watts.
No must there at all.
57% of California forests are controlled by the federal government.
It isn’t much consolation to the dead and their loved ones but at least Congress had enough shame from it to finally increase the California Forestry fire management and prevention budget by 3.2x.
In 5 years the federally controlled forests should be in vastly better shape.
What is this American government fetish for trying to backseat-drive private companies into serving public interests?
Answer me this Texan; I always hear about all these people leaving California because housing is so expensive. So who are all these people that have purchased these homes and want to live there, in the world’s 5th largest economy? Who are all these people willing to pay a premium to live there? You never get an answer from conservatives on this issue, they only want to present one side, their California bashing. Facts matter.
I clicked on one of the links provided, that shows how land is owned and distributed in California. If the state of California truly owns only 2.2% of land, there’s not much management to be had. It appears it falls into the hands of other entities.
As far as I’m concerned PG&E is blackmailing us. They are holding us hostage. If they refuse to do their job (it’s just wind, it’s not a new phenomenon) and take care of that equipment they invested hundreds of millions of dollars into, then maybe someone else should be doing the job for them. Don’t negotiate with terrorists.
This is the result of voters putting people in office based upon feelings, rather than based upon a logical, fact-based, analysis of a wide variety of problems.
What parts of California aren’t full of literal shit or used needles, are burning down or doing without power. Sane people with options are leaving, several thousand per week (though many retain their voting patterns when they get to low-tax, freedom-oriented states – they are like a plague of locusts, moving on to new feeding grounds once they’ve completely destroyed the previous one). What a marvelous success Leftism has been! California is Detroit and Baltimore writ large.
Excellent article Brian, and Yes, the Federal government should come in to cleanup the forests, and then, California should be forced to start doing their job in land management…
However, the Permanent Solution would be for the Brainwashed Voters in this state to stop practicing insanity by re-electing the same morons every year…
The bottom line is one party has adopted a Far Left agenda that is anti-human. They other party is pro-human and pro-family and pro-business.
wakeup people if you want a better life!
There is no ‘California’ in this discussion. There’s only PG&E failure to take care of its equipment properly, even in the face of record quarterly profit in 2017 (see 1), the year before the Camp fire. Additionally, the fatal for many Camp fire both started on federally managed land and burned through federally and privately held land.
Here’s the break down of land owned in California (see 2):
You want to blame someone? Blame the federally managed forest service for not watching over its resources and blame PG&E, as no one has gone to jail yet for the 86 deaths. Otherwise, stop with the partisan bullshit and lies.
California law forbids the use of non-union, non full time 12 month electric power companies employees to cut trees and remove brush. No contractors, no temps. No helicopters, no logging roads, no cutting of trees over 24″. No sales of logs. Forbids the use of money taken from ANY source except executive salaries for hardening at risk lines. No doubt the idiot green Democrats would oppose the use of NG or other resources. Kafka has NOTHING on the Democrats/
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