California customers have over 20 times the annual minutes of power outage as electrical customers in France. California has over 200 times the annual minutes of power outage as electrical customers in Japan. California customers have three times more annual minutes of power outage than the US average. The sources of the problems are how California has chosen to mismanage electrical supply, electrical grid and forests.
On various nights during the recent heatwaves, natural gas plants provided 60% of California’s electricity over large regions.
California had planned to shut four of those natural gas power plants in 2020. They have now delayed the shutdown of natural gas plants for a few years. However, the electrical grid cannot be made reliable using only solar and wind in a few years or a few decades. California already depends upon power from other states. In 2018, almost one-third of California’s electricity supply came from generating facilities outside the state. From 2013 to 2017, California was the nation’s largest importer of electricity from other states.
Low Wind and High Winds Are Problems
Hot days with no wind can happen. These are not highly unusual events. The low wind days means there is not enough wind power for relatively normal electrical demand. This was part of the problem in the past few weeks.
California had reduced solar power on many days because of smoke from wildfires. Today there is smoke from wildfires covering much of California. The wildfires are burning for months out of the year. The utility companies have told the state that it will take at least a decade to reduce the risk of wildfires from a faulty electric grid. There are over 150 million dead trees in California’s forests. Massive wildfires have been happening every year for the past four years. It is not a question of IF there will be wildfires. There will be large wildfires every year for a decade and probably longer. Energy plans that do not accept this reality will be plans that fail.
On high wind days, Pacific Gas and Electric (PGE) has had to shutdown the power grid to prevent wildfires which have burned entire towns.
Forecasted sustained winds generally above 25 mph and wind gusts in excess of approximately 45 mph, depending on location and site-specific conditions such as temperature, terrain and local climate.
PGE has said you can expect this to happen 0 to 5 times every year. PGE supplies power to Northern California.
PGE knows they have not maintained the power grid properly so high winds can push down the wires hanging from towers and set fires. They have said they will need at least a decade to catch up on maintenance to make a safer grid.
Southern California Edison (SCE) provides power to Los Angeles. They have the same warning about Power Safety Power Shutoffs.
Texas Was Close to a Major Power Outage
Texas nearly had a major power outage due to lack of wind power. Wind turbines did not operate in the still air of July. Reserve margins were used up. ERCOT, the state’s main power supplier, had to pay spot electricity prices of $9000 per megawatt hour instead of the normal $20 to $30 per megawatt-hour. This happened twice in the summer of 2020. If another power plant went offline for maintenance or a gas pipeline ruptured then there would have been blackouts.
Taiwan may fall into the unreliable electric group as they are looking to shutdown their nuclear reactors.
Statistics show the US ranking about 25th in electrical grid reliability in 2019. The statistical measure is 98.6% reliable.
Average minutes per year of customer power losses :
United Kingdom 70 minutes
France 53 minutes
Netherlands 29 minutes
Japan 6 minutes
Singapore 2 minutes.
In Japan, the average customer loses power once every 20 years. In the United States, it is once every 9 months, excluding hurricanes and other strong storms.
California PGE has a report on outages in 2019 when high winds caused many “safety” shutdowns. They did not include planned shutdowns and like to report a statistic where they exclude “major events”>
The System Average Interruption Duration Index (SAIDI) is commonly used as a reliability indicator by electric power utilities. PGE had over 1300 minutes of outage per customer. customers in NAPA had an average of over 6000 minutes of outage and the North Bay had over 4000 minutes of outage.
In 2004, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) estimated that the annual costs of U.S. power outages are at least $22 billion and may be as high as $135 billion. This was before California’s problems with a poorly maintained grid and poorly maintained forests and over reliance on wind and solar made things much worse.
Reviewing What Days Are Problems for Electrical Power in California
Let us review what days can be problems for electrical power in California.
Windy days when winds are over 25 miles per hour and gusting to 45 miles per hour.
Very calm days when there is no wind.
Hot days when too many people need air conditioning.
Days when there are wildfires.
Smoky days when wildfires make too much smoke and prevent sun from reaching solar panels.
Properly maintained electrical grids do not have to have safety shutdowns. High winds in Europe, Asia do not cause grid shutdowns. Power can often be maintained even during monsoons and hurricanes.
Power utilities are paid for the electricity that is generated and to maintain the electrical grid. They are paid to safely and reliably generate power. California’s electrical regulators and the power companies have failed on both safety and reliability.
The US electrical grid has been unreliable compared to other countries.
California’s electrical grid is unreliable compared to other US states.
California’s electrical problems are getting worse.
California chose to not keep reliable nuclear power plants maintained and operating. California has chosen to shutdown its last two nuclear reactors around 2024-2025.
California is choosing to shutdown natural gas power plants.
California has experienced problems with unreliable wind and solar power but is choosing to continue to increase its reliance on what has proven to be unreliable.
California has an economy larger than any other single country other than China, Japan and Germany. California has had a annual state budget surplus of $20 billion per year that the state government is choosing not to spend on fixing problems today. California is apparently going to create even bigger disasters and then spend the money when those happen.
SOURCES- PGE, SCE, Energy.gov, NY Times, LBNL, Issues, Drax
Written By Brian Wang, Nextbigfuture.com
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.