California Mismanagement Guarantee Many Power Outages

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.

PGE has a page describing Power Safety Power Shutoffs.

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.

Reliable Grids

France, South Korea, Taiwan and Switzerland have been able to have stable electrical grids with no blackouts for over five years.

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.

The average U.S. customer lost power for 214 minutes per year back in 2005.

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 2017, the average US customer lost power for over 450 minutes and in 2018, the average US customer lost power for 360 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 2020, for multiple days millions of customers had rotating blackout lasting hours.

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

10 thoughts on “California Mismanagement Guarantee Many Power Outages”

  1. Shutting down nuclear fission plants before a replacement was found was a big mistake. And to further exacerbate the problem, they're leaving the waste on the beach. San Onofre upgrade was one of the costliest engineering errors ever because of trying to upgrade on the cheap. Other than nuclear, Geothermal, OTEC, or Wave/Tidal energy might fill in the gaps of wind and solar. Additional Dams for HydroPower and energy storage might also help, but "we don't build dams anymore or maintain forests because of environmental concerns."

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  2. That is a lousy solution. And honestly I don't think that is where we are headed. We are building renewable. It just takes time for it to come online. I am not saying it is the best solution, but it should work.
    We need things to work when we need them. And not everyone is OK with 80 degrees especially the elderly and the near 40% of the population that is obese.
    Better is getting homes insulated well, serious prizes for Air Conditioning efficiency gains, solar arrays on poles with 2 axis tracking in many back yards, powered roof ventilators, Trombe walls, solar water heaters, waste heat from dishwashers, dryers, stoves, refrigerators and ovens vented in hot weather, systems to exchange air with the outdoors with minimal temperature change inside so people don't have to open doors and windows for fresh air. The ability to quickly move air and make it near the temperature of outside at the times that is appropriate to reduce cooling or heating later (ideally automated and informed by weather forecasts, and occupant preferences, 2 stages to entry/exit in building architecture. By that I mean you enter through doors into a small area and then there are the real doors to the building.
    And in California we need more geothermal. There is plenty to be had. We could easily move that up to 40%. It works reliably 24 hours a day.

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  3. I wonder how much money is literally going up in smoke because of lack of forest cutting, which could bring in badly needed revenue from timber sales or at least using the dead trees as controlled firewood? And, of course, billions would be saved in fire damage and 100s of lives.

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  4. What ever happened to the talk about joining the major grids together more to allow more power import/export over long distance? Wasn't there going to be some sort of super intertie site in Texas/Oklahoma that was going to tie the eastern and western and central grids together?

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  5. We were without power from Saturday to Sunday. Blasted hottest day of the year. 110 degrees here and not even the slightest hit of a breeze the entire time the power was out. I bought some used solar panels about a year ago. I was going to setup a small system to power my outdoor freezer and possibly my computer and one window AC unit, but haven't gotten around to it. And my car does not have AC either. The other car wouldn't start because it sat too long and the battery is drained.
    When the power went out, the road traffic at least tripled in 10 minutes. Everyone headed for their car, to get some AC. Or maybe they were looking for somewhere with power, so they could cool off in a grocery or something. Cellular signal was also bad.
    But SDGE said it was not demand that caused it but the "Valley Fire". Fire is a stupid reason. We have no tall trees to cause problems with power lines in the wild areas.
    I think they should replace the wooden poles with concrete poles if poles go through scrub, that is bound to burn sometime. Or bury if that is cheaper. And the power lines in town should be buried for a dozen reasons. Am I making too much sense?
    Railroad ties should also be concrete, because they last much longer. They have had that tech for quite a while. Our infrastructure should be hardened to all likely eventualities including time. In our case, flash floods, winter flooding, drought, earthquakes, Santa Anas and the fires and heat involved.

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  6. It isn't mismanagement, it's being cheap. Capital improvements must be paid for by increases in rates. The citizens don't want to pay more. The Public Service Commission doesn't want to allow the utilities to spend the money.

    A fix would be to put solar panels on everyone's roof and heat pump air conditioners for every home. Make cheap loans and tax credit available to home owners.

    Another fix would be remote demand control for air conditioners or peak demand charges for people using power during the peak period.

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  7. I suspect that due to desire to switch to solely renewables, the direction we're headed is to build enough generation and storage capacity to handle most of the time – but to handle "excess demand" (i.e. under-generation due to extended periods of low generation) we'll have the grid controlling demand.

    Your AC will set itself to a higher temp and refuse to go lower. At certain times your water heater, won't. Washer and dryer will tell you to wait a while to wash your clothes. Favored businesses will get plenty of power, disfavored may have to look into moving elsewhere. A small number of homes (where politicians and wealthy donors happen to live) will quietly be given exemptions to inconvenient "power adjustments".

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