Recent Blackouts Partially Explained by California’s Rush to Green Energy

The rolling blackouts that hit California in August left at least one million California residents in the dark, and in doing so demonstrated the shortcomings of the state’s hurried transition to green energy.

In an article in The Wall Street Journal, Rebecca Smith and Katherine Blunt note that the intense August heatwave left California struggling to find 8,000 megawatts of energy each evening—an unsurprising statistic when considering the fact that the state often finds itself up to 15,000 megawatts short of power as it’s renewable energy wanes after sunset. As a result, on especially hot days, left California overly-reliant on energy imports from neighboring states who themselves experience higher demand. 

“Two numbers help explain why California finds itself scrounging for megawatts on many evenings,” Smith and Blunt report. “Between 2014 and 2018, the state reduced its consumption of electricity from natural gas-fired power plants by 21% according to the state’s energy commission. Over the same period, it increased renewable energy consumption by 54%.”

Columnist Henry Olson, writing for The Washington Post, points out that with renewable energy, demand often cannot be met because that energy is dependent on an uncontrollable source, like the shine of the sun or the strength of wind. Unlike green energy, nuclear power plants are much better suited to meet demand as they’re constantly operating. However, aggressive efforts to go green have already shut down California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant; meanwhile, the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is planned for shutdown in 2025. 

Battery storage seems to be the best solution, but the amount of investment required will have to be enormous. “One California ISO estimate is that the state could need up to 15,000 megawatts of energy storage capacity—many multiples of what it has today, at just a few hundred megawatts—to reach its goal of eliminating carbon emission from power generation by 2045,” Smith and Blunt added.

Ultimately, it’s clear that California must put more consideration into its energy plans. More environmentally-friendly energy may very well be the right direction, but state leaders must ensure that the shift from natural to green energy is as reliable as it is ambitious. 


Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr