Northern California Has Less Reliable Electricity Than Rural China

Rural China has a better power grid than Northern California. Rural China power outages in 2019 averaged 900 minutes while Northern California had 2019 power outages of over 1300 minutes.

Rural China has per capita income of less than $3000 per person (16000 RMB). California has per capita GDP of over $70,000. Californians are over 20 times wealthier than people in rural china. However, California cannot maintain a more reliable power grid.

From 2016 to 2019, China’s total investment in transforming and upgrading rural power grids reached RMB830 billion (US$150 billion), and the average power outage time in rural areas was reduced to about 15 hours (900 Minutes) per year.

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 maybe 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.

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.

PGE Also Kills Many Customers

PGE has a long history of incompetence. PGE was responsible for poisoning the town of Hinkley. This was made into the movie Erin Brockovich.

From 1952 to 1966, Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) dumped about 370 million gallons of chromium-tainted wastewater into unlined wastewater spreading ponds around the town of Hinkley, California, located in the Mojave Desert (about 120 miles north-northeast of Los Angeles). PG&E used chromium 6, or hexavalent chromium (a cheap and efficient rust suppressor), in its compressor station for natural-gas transmission pipelines. Hexavalent-chromium compounds are genotoxic carcinogens. In 1993, legal clerk Erin Brockovich began an investigation into the health impacts of the contamination. A class-action lawsuit about the contamination was settled in 1996 for $333 million.

In 2018, the Camp Fire killed 85 people, left several firefighters injured and razed more than 150,000 acres in Northern California.

SOURCES – Energy in China’s New Era (The State Council Information Office of the People’s Republic of China December 2020), PGE
Written By Brian Wang,

37 thoughts on “Northern California Has Less Reliable Electricity Than Rural China”

  1. I'm a long term fan of nuclear, but lately I've been having another look at renewables with pumped hydro – but a special kind of pumped hydro. It's not on-river, which is often problematic because it is already over-used, doesn't have enough estimated resource to backup today's grids, and has serious ecological concerns with our last fisheries and intact ecosystems.
    But what if we look at any hilly areas that might have the topography to run a pumped hydro dam – but are just not on a river? We can build the dam anyway. We could pump the water in from a nearby river. We could cover the dam in plastic to reduce evaporation and reduce evaporation 90% so many areas are topped up by local rainfall. This increases the world's potential pumped-hydro several orders of magnitude. Indeed, satellite mapping for these sites has come up with 300 TIMES the grid storage required to take Australia 100% renewable. The cost? Pumped hydro = 1 GW storage capacity for 14 hours at $1.8 billion.

    Is that economical enough given you basically have to overbuild our WASPs (Wind and Solar Plants) for our lowest resource season twice over? Build enough WASPS that they run things even during a snowy winter, AND do it twice so that while they're running your city in winter, they're also pumping water uphill somewhere that water is still liquid! Yeah, winter. It wrecks so many 100% renewable schemes.

  2. That's why China is a country controlled by a ruling oligarchy. And its communist– in name only. Its really an autocratic plutocracy. There are more that 100 billionaires in China's ruling parliament. There are no billionaires in the two houses of Congress in the US.

  3. Texas doesn't have state income tax either. That is why they are getting so many Californian refugees. Well, that and the weather … minus the hurricanes of course.

  4. Its only a pipe dream if you're– totally unaware– that methanol electric power plants and hydrogen fuel cell power plants– already exist. China, India, and Europe are already starting to move towards a methanol economy.

  5. The next problem will be the the older parts of the switchgear. It is not meant to be switched off and on frequently.

  6. Maybe, but it's because of intentionally turning off distribution in windy weather. The grid is reliable, the people that run it are not.

  7. PG&E has killed thousands over their tenure as an energy provider in California. The recent state budget has money aside to incorporate Golden State Utilities. I guess Pacific Graff and Extortion's reign of terror is coming to an end. Not a fan of overpriced energy coupled with corporate incompetence.

  8. That isn't what is occurring. Say PG&E shuts off a power line and 2000 are without power. What you can do for example is put a separator, and have two chunks of say 1000 without power. Then you run the PG&E owned/deployed generators in one of the chunks of 1000 and then they get power, which is okay as they weren't really at risk from winds/fires but had the back luck of having their feed line and other customers in their "way" who were. Next year you put another separator in that "blacked out" 1000 and make it two chunks of 500. Generators for 1500 of 2000 now. Rinse/repeat.

  9. PG&E customers abandoning the grid and setting up their own generators would if anything affirm the correctness of Brian’s point.

  10. 43.11 percent of voters were registered Democrats, and 23.57 percent Republican in California. Even if you paint all Democrats as Commies, they're not even a plurality. They could be more disciplined and it wouldn't matter.

  11. If a standard costs $7.5 million per year and for example saves 0.2 lives, it's a stupid standard – there's much cheaper ways to save lives at 37.5 million per. It would be cheaper to just increase the size of shoulders on roads – proven to save more lives at a far far cheaper price.

  12. That's true enough in 2019. Not true in 2020.

    They've been able to to use tried and true 3rd world power grid methods to break cutoff cells into smaller areas. So half the number customers were affected in 2020, like meaning roughly half the extra major event SAIDI minutes. With a combination of generators and ever decreasing cutoff cell sizes they'll probably halve it again by 2021 and so on. Info in the link above.

  13. Texas has better power than China, Texas has better power than Iran. The mullahs are complaining about outages causing too much chinese-made sheep vibrator outages ruining their love life.

  14. Older distribution systems are more unreliable than newer distribution system. Parts tend to deteriorate as they are weathered over decades. In order to keep rates low, most utilities do the minimum maintenance they can do and still meet the target specify by the local PSC.

  15. 'safety' shutdowns

    Lasting consequences of the trees causing fires lawsuits? Are people in rural China allowed to sue a utility for anything?

    Lets not pretend poisoning people is more important than economic concerns.
    In defense of chromium-tainted wastewater,

    August 16, 2017 California Drops Tough Chromium-6 Standard after a taxpayer group challenged a drinking water standard in California, a state panel has decided to remove the rule…The State Water Resources Control Board announced this month that it has adopted a resolution to remove the MCL for chromium-6 after the Superior Court of Sacramento County invalidated the standard…The court said the state "failed to properly consider the economic feasibility of complying with the MCL." The state does not plan to appeal, according to a statement from the state board released this month.The standard would have cost Vacaville $7.5 million…

  16. California needs to shift it's dependence from wind and fire vulnerable long distance power lines– to methanol microgrids. Natural gas power plants can easily be converted to use methanol. And methanol produces electricity more efficiently than natural gas and is much easier and safer to store.

    You can also use methanol to produce electricity in fuel cell-battery
    power plants using reformed methanol (hydrogen extracted from methanol
    by waste heat). Fuel cell power plants would be excellent peak load
    power plants.

    The total methanol demand can be reduced by using small local solar power facilities (perhaps 16 hectares in area) to reduce daytime electricity demand for methanol.

    You can produce methanol from natural gas or from renewable resources (urban garbage and sewage, dead trees from forest and other fire hazardous foliage, and from nuclear, solar, wind, and hydroelectricity through the production of hydrogen from water and the extraction of CO2 from the atmosphere. Cryocapturing CO2 from the methanol power plants could produce methanol that's even cheaper and would be a process that's initially– carbon negative).

    So local communities in California would no longer have to suffer from temporary shutdowns of electricity during the fire season– since they would produce their own local electricity.

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