Friday, August 21, 2020

GWPF Newsletter: California Doomed to Frequent Blackouts Due To Battery Shortage


Is California’s Heatwave Really So Hot?

In this newsletter:

1) California Doomed to Frequent Blackouts Due To Battery Shortage
Bloomberg, 19 August 2020
2) Q&A: Why California Is Facing Power Outages, Rolling Blackouts Yet Again
Associated Press, 19 August 2020

3) Paul Homewood: Is California’s Heatwave Really So Hot?
Not A Lot Of People Know That, 19 August 2020

4) WSJ: California’s Green Blackouts
Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, 20 August 2020
5) David Harsanyi: Democrats Promise to Bring California-Style Blackouts to Everyone
National Review, 19 August 2020

6) Ross McKitrick: Save The Economy, Ditch The ‘Green Recovery’ Plans
Financial Post, 19 August 2020

7) Chuck DeVore: California's Wildfires Are Caused By Bad Environmental Policy
Forbes, 25 February 2019

Full details:

1) California Doomed to Frequent Blackouts Due To Battery Shortage
Bloomberg, 19 August 2020
Problem is there aren’t enough of these massive batteries to go around right now.

As the threat of blackouts continues to plague California, officials are pointing to battery storage as a key to preventing future power shortfalls. But the Golden State is going to need a lot more batteries to weather the next crisis—let alone to achieve its goal of a carbon-free grid.

It won’t be cheap, potentially costing close to $19 billion. But more critically, there aren’t enough of these massive batteries to go around right now.
California’s latest energy crisis has several causes. For one, 9 gigawatts of gas generation—enough to power 6.8 million homes—was retired in recent years. Over that same period, the state’s grid integrated more solar power, which without sufficient battery storage can be less reliable than the fossil fuels that drive global warming.

In recent days, California’s worst heatwave in decades sent sweltering residents scrambling for their air conditioners. Typically, demand increases in the evening just as power from solar falls off. Batteries that store excess solar power can ease demands on the system at night, according to Adam Gentner, a vice president at German battery supplier Sonnen.
But there aren’t enough batteries installed on California’s grid right now. So power was curtailed Friday and Saturday, and may have to be cut again Wednesday.

California’s grid operator estimates that as much as 12 gigawatts of batteries would eventually be needed to store enough renewable energy to help maintain the balance between supply and demand. That’s a huge jump from the more than 500 megawatts worth of batteries operating in the state at the end of last year. At about $400 a kilowatt-hour and using 4-hour batteries, the entire effort could cost California close to $19 billion, according to Toby Shea, a senior credit officer at Moody’s Investors Service.

Meanwhile, only 4.6 gigawatts of energy storage is expected to be built in 2020—worldwide. The vast majority of that will come from batteries. 

“If California wants to take renewable growth seriously, it has to commit to batteries, or something else,” Shea said in an interview.

Full story
2) Q&A: Why California Is Facing Power Outages, Rolling Blackouts Yet Again
Associated Press, 19 August 2020

As if the pandemic and economic recession weren't bad enough, millions of Californians have been on pins and needles amid recurring threats of abrupt blackouts during a heatwave in the nation's most populous state.
California's Independent System Operator, a nonprofit agency that manages the state's power supply, ordered utilities to impose temporary blackouts for the first time in 19 years last Friday and did so again Saturday, pulling the plug on hundreds of thousands of customers for one to two hours. The specter of so-called "rolling outages" have loomed as a possibility every day since, and were narrowly averted Monday and Tuesday after "stunning" conservation efforts, according to ISO president Steve Berberich. 
Conservation was requested again Wednesday to keep the power running. Temperatures are finally supposed to ease Thursday, but more outages could still loom if things heat up as much as some forecasts suggest.
The blackouts seemed to catch government officials off guard, despite an ISO warning in January that the state could run low on power over the summer if several western states were to experience extreme heat at the same time — which indeed happened several days ago.
"This has been a rude awakening for California," said Najmedin Meshkati, a University of Southern California civil and environmental engineering professor who has studied the state's power supply.
The outages prompted Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, to order an investigation into how the state's energy supply failed to keep up with demand. President Donald Trump also weighed in with a Tuesday tweet,  blaming the state's Democrats for the mess.
Here's a look at the latest challenge to confront California. 
Q: California had rolling blackouts two decades ago because of power shortages. Why hasn't it learned from past mistakes?
Circumstances were very different in 2000-2001. Back then, a recent deregulation of the state power market was going horribly awry as energy traders manipulated energy supplies to gouge utilities. Blackout fallout eventually led voters to oust then-Gov. Gray Davis in a recall election.

These days, California is trying to adapt to environmental mandates that have shut down natural-gas power plants in favor of solar and wind energy. In addition, the San Onofre nuclear power plant in southern California shut down in 2013 for safety reasons. Nearby western states have also been phasing out coal-burning plants, reducing other energy supplies available for California to import.
Renewable energy reduces pollution, but it can run short if winds die down or demand surges after sundown. As much as 25% of California's power supply comes from solar sources. Both came to pass last Friday and Saturday as temperatures stayed high into the evening, pushing up air-conditioning demand for electricity.
Energy shortages used to be the most severe around 4:30 p.m. on hot summer days, but are now occurring after 7 p.m., the ISO says.
Others believe he problem has more to do with California failing to manage and properly store power generated from renewable sources. "There is a certain level of misinformation going on out there," said Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at the University of California, Berkeley.

Q: This isn't California's first recent heatwave. What's different?
The state's highest recorded demand for electricity occurred in August 2006 when usage peaked at 50,270 megawatts, according to the ISO. No blackouts were necessary. But at the time, natural-gas plants were still producing about 7,000 megawatts of electricity that is longer available, said Severin Borenstein, an ISO board member who is also a professor of business administration and public policy at the University of California. Berkeley.

A September 2017 heatwave caused demand to spike to 50,140 megawatts, the ISO said Tuesday. But power imported from other western states that weren't as hot helped save the day.
The recent shortages would have likely been even worse but for pandemic restrictions that closed many large offices. By some estimates, the pandemic so far has reduced overall electricity demand in California and other parts of the country by 8% to 10%.
Q: Doesn't California also face blackouts intended to prevent wildfires?
Yes, particularly in Northern California. Such blackouts are likely to be more severe than what the state has just experienced. Some of the more than 2 million people affected by fire-fighting outages last fall were left without electricity for several days, not just an hour or two.

It's highly unlikely that the ISO would order rolling outages at the same time as a fire-prevention blackout, as demand will automatically have already been reduced, Borenstein said.

Q: How can California avoid future rolling blackouts?
Investments in electricity storage and distribution would do the trick, Kammen said. But those could be expensive, and even harder to budget for at a time when the state faces huge deficits amid the pandemic-related slowdown.

California also may have to consider extending the lifetime of its last nuclear power plant in Diablo Canyon. The plant is currently scheduled to close by the end of 2025, and keeping it open would likely face staunch resistance from environmentalists and politicians.
Full post
3) Paul Homewood: Is California’s Heatwave Really So Hot?
Not A Lot Of People Know That, 19 August 2020
A temperature of 54.4C – or 129.9F – has been recorded in Death Valley, California, in what some extreme weather watchers believe could be the hottest reading ever reliably recorded on the planet.
The United States National Weather Service’s automated weather station at Furnace Creek near the border with Nevada hit the extreme high at 3:41pm on Sunday afternoon, a statement said.
The heatwave in California has been making the news this week, and it is also being blamed for rolling blackouts in the state. But has it been exceptionally hot?
We normally see reports of “record” temperatures at big city sites. But what about rural ones? Lemon Cove is a small town of about 300 people, and lies just north of Bakersfield and west of Death Valley. It is also a long running, high quality USHCN site.
Temperatures this month have peaked at 109F:



Yet 109F is not in the least unusual there. The highest temperature on record was 115f, set in 1931 and again in 1933:


Indeed, 50 years have exceeded 109F.
Full post & comments
4) WSJ: California’s Green Blackouts
Editorial, The Wall Street Journal, 20 August 2020

If you eliminate fossil fuels, power shortages are inevitable. 
Millions of Californians have lost power in recent days amid a brutal heat wave, and state regulators warn of more outages in the days and perhaps years to come. Welcome to California’s green new normal, a harbinger of a fossil-free world.

“These blackouts, which occurred without prior warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation’s largest and most innovative state,” Gov. Gavin Newsom declared Monday while ordering regulators to pull out all stops to keep power on. “This cannot stand.”
Mr. Newsom is demanding an investigation, though he can start with his party’s obsessions over climate and eliminating fossil fuels. Even former Gov. Gray Davis admitted the culprit is the state’s anti-fossil fuel policies. “The bottom line is, people don’t want lights to go down,” he told Politico. “People also want a carbon-free future. Sometimes those two aspirations come into conflict.” They certainly do.
California’s Independent System Operator (Caiso) has been warning for years that the state’s increasing dependence on intermittent renewables, especially solar, is making it harder to ensure reliable power. Renewables currently make up about 36% of California’s electric generation, and Democrats have set a 60% mandate for 2030 and 100% for 2045.
Caiso in part blamed cloud cover, weak winds and failures at a couple of power plants for this weekend’s power outages. But this happens when you rush to shut down power plants to meet government diktats and reduce the amount of reliable baseload power. Unlike fossil-fuel plants, solar and wind can’t ramp up quickly when other power generators go down. Solar power also plunges in the evening, and the state didn’t have enough backup power to compensate to meet high demand.
Dozens of natural-gas plants that can ramp up power on demand have closed since 2013—enough to supply about four million households—so California is relying more on energy imported from other states when needed. In normal times it imports about 15% of its energy. But the Golden State’s neighbors are also experiencing heat waves, and many have also been replacing fossil fuels with renewables too.
Over the weekend, Caiso imported hydropower from the Pacific Northwest, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation released emergency water flows from the Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River to generate hydroelectricity. Californians are fortunate that reservoirs were relatively full this year after a somewhat wet winter.
Los Angeles’s Department of Water and Power, which draws nearly 20% of its electricity from out-of-state coal, also chipped in supply. And Mr. Newsom on Monday waived the state’s emissions standards to allow businesses and utilities to run fossil-fuel generators, many procured for emergency power outages during wildfire seasons.
The power outages will get worse and more frequent as the state becomes more reliant on renewables. The Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has directed utilities to triple their battery storage for electricity by 2026. But this won’t make up for the natural-gas and nuclear plants that are slated to shut down in the interim—or the state’s power shortfalls during the heat wave.
Batteries are also expensive and present their own environmental hazards. Caiso has warned that the PUC isn’t accounting for battery recycling and replacement costs or how several days of cloudy weather could reduce solar energy storage. Batteries need to be replaced after 10 or so years, and disposing of their toxic metals is expensive.
According to the Energy Information Administration, the capital costs for a solar plant with an attached battery system run between 50% and 150% higher than for a new natural-gas plant. Natural-gas plants are still much less expensive after accounting for fuel costs, and they generally have a lifespan of 30 or more years.
Full editorial ($)
5) David Harsanyi: Democrats Promise to Bring California-Style Blackouts to Everyone
National Review, 19 August 2020

Gotta say, it was bold of Democratic Party convention organizers to let voters know they plan on passing federal energy policies that would transform the rest of the country into California. 

The Golden State is experiencing rolling blackouts even as the Democrats speak. Millions of people are having their electrical power turned off in the middle of a heat wave — more specifically, their air conditioners. Blackouts aren’t merely an inconvenience, it is an economic drag and dangerous to vulnerable populations.
California doesn’t have enough reliable power — which is to say fossil-fuel and nuclear energy – because it depends on intermittent sources like solar and windmills. California is what happens when quixotic political aspirations smother economic reality. I’m skeptical that most Americans – even Californians – will be willingly to roll back modernity for long. We’ll see.

California governor Gavin Newsom was forced to admit the state’s “transition” away from fossil fuels was one of the contributing factors in rolling blackouts, so you can imagine how serious it is. For context, renewable energy is now responsible for approximately 36 percent of the state’s energy generation, and it’s already putting a tremendous strain on the state. It has to nearly double that number within a decade, and go 100 percent fossil-fuel free by 2045.
Just a reminder: To keep up with IPCC recommendations on carbon emission cut and meet the Paris treaty goals that Democrats promise, Americans would be compelled to shut down virtually the entire economy. The only time we’ve kept pace with those numbers was during the lockdown.
Both Kamala Harris and Joe Biden support the Green New Deal, which calls for the elimination of all fossil fuels within a decade – not to mention cars and planes and entire industries. To be fair, Democrats often treat “The Green New Deal” as some amorphous catch-all slogan. But Biden’s plan calling for “clean energy revolution and environmental justice” not only ostensibly relies on the Green New Deal, it promises to make the plan the “framework for meeting the climate challenges we face.” That means “a 100 percent clean energy economy and net-zero emissions no later than 2050.”

Or, in other words, welcome to California!
6) Ross McKitrick: Save The Economy, Ditch The ‘Green Recovery’ Plans
Financial Post, 19 August 2020

Green technologies that were known money-losers before the pandemic are still money-losers today
There’s a curious idea floating around that the COVID crisis undid the principles of economics. Nobody puts it exactly like that, but it’s implied in the various proposals for restructuring the post-pandemic economy so that it will look very different from the one we experienced up to the end of January.

Amid the buzzwords about “Resilient Recovery” and “Building Back Better” are proposals for an investment push into green technologies and new environmental policies, including initiatives that failed to pass standard economic tests before the pandemic.
So how, exactly, did the pandemic change the criteria for evaluating policies, investments and major public projects?’
The short answer is: it didn’t, and any claim otherwise is untrue. The recovery from the pandemic shutdown should not be seen as an “opportunity” to make bad investments and policy decisions. Bad ideas prior to the pandemic are still bad ideas today. Policies that failed cost-benefit tests before the shutdown are even more likely to fail such tests now that unemployment has soared, public debt has exploded and business investment is faltering. Green technologies that were known money-losers before the pandemic are still money-losers today. The only thing that’s changed is that we have even less money to work with, so the need to avoid wasting it is higher than ever. It’s critical to choose investments that will lead to real growth and job creation.
When it comes to choosing good investments, the guiding principle is profit. Will the new capital generate a revenue stream greater than the cost of acquiring it? If yes, the jobs that accompany the capital investment will be sustainable, at least as far as we can reasonably surmise. If no, the project will lose money and will either end quickly or will require subsidies funded by adding costs elsewhere in the economy.
“Sustainability” does not mean using fewer resources or cutting energy consumption, though it can involve those things. It means value-creation in a competitive marketplace where the concept of value can be expanded to include (but not consist solely of) natural and environmental capital. A profitable investment is one where, after all costs are paid (including environmental costs), the outputs are worth more to society than the inputs, including the labour costs. Profitable investments are sustainable. Unprofitable investments are not.
This principle has long been the foundation of economic analysis for both policies and projects. The pandemic did not change it. The only thing COVID-19 might have done is make it even more valuable for society to increase employment and decrease non-essential demands on the public purse. Which means that the idea of coupling a post-pandemic recovery plan with any kind of Canadian Green New Deal is bound to be harmful. […]
We are entering a phase of the COVID recession when many of the main benefit programs will start winding down. Even if there’s still a need for them, we can’t simply keep borrowing hundreds of billions of dollars to keep everyone locked down at home. We must begin reopening businesses and re-employing laid-off workers as much as is safely possible. And we must begin aggressively generating wealth to pay back the staggering costs of the COVID response.
The idea of adopting an even more aggressively “green” approach to the economy is diametrically opposed to these things. Now more than ever we need policy-makers to support profitable investment and capital formation, which often simply means not imposing unnecessary rules and regulations on entrepreneurs. We also need policy-makers to subject their fashionable green recovery plans to rigid cost-benefit analysis, rather than imposing ideologically driven economic restructuring schemes that overvalue minuscule pollution reductions and undervalue income and productivity gains.
Full post
7) Chuck DeVore: California's Wildfires Are Caused By Bad Environmental Policy
Forbes, 25 February 2019

In the past two years, wildfires scorched 2.9 million acres in California, including five of the state’s 20 deadliest fires killing 131 people.

Former California Gov. Jerry Brown grimly warned that because of man-made climate change, these destructive wildfires are the “new abnormal” that threaten “our whole way of life.”
Newly elected Gov. Gavin Newsom’s rhetoric has been more balanced.

As with Brown before him, Newsom blames climate change for the fires, saying during the campaign last September that, “The science is clear — increased fire threat due to climate change is becoming a fact of life in our state. Drier, longer summers combined with unpredictable wet winters have created dangerous fire conditions.”
Claiming that climate change causes wildfires naturally leads to a demand for action, with Newsom promising an aggressive progressive pushback against the Trump Administration’s effort to cut red tape regarding vehicle mileage standards, power plant carbon dioxide emissions, and oil and gas extraction.
That’s politics. Governing often dictates practicality. Here Newsom appears set to do more to combat wildfires than the tentative half-measures signed into law by Brown. Newsom is calling for improved wildfire surveillance and warning systems, better urban planning, and helping property owners clear brush.

Regarding reducing the fuel load, in an interview four months ago, Newsom said that there are “Hundreds of millions of dead trees” in the state and that it cost his father $35,000 to clear “a small little patch of dead trees” on his property.
Newsom didn’t admit it, but the outrageous cost to remove a few dead trees from private land is a consequence of California’s Byzantine environmental regulatory patchwork.
This is California’s big secret: it’s not climate change that’s burning up the forests, killing people, and destroying hundreds of homes; it’s decades of environmental mismanagement that has created a tinderbox of unharvested timber, dead trees, and thick underbrush.
This dangerous situation attracted attention from President Donald Trump who, during the height of California’s wildfires last year insistedthat “There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor."
The irony is that forest management is so bad on public lands that a new report, ordered by the California legislature in 2010, shows that the portion of California's National Forests protected from timber harvesting is now a net contributor to atmospheric carbon dioxide due to fires and trees killed by insects and disease.
Every year about 3.8 billion board feet of new timber grows in the Golden State, capturing almost one metric ton of CO2 per acre in the productive timberland areas. Trees grow until they die, burn, or get harvested. If harvesting declines, tree mortality and fires increase. It’s the tyranny of math.
In the early 1990s, a series of restrictions were placed on logging in the West to protect the Spotted Owl. As it turned out, nature was more complicated than expected, with owl numbers continuing to decline—even after the California timber harvest plummeted—due to predation from other raptors.
In the meantime, the harvest fell below the growth rate in the 1990s, to about 1.5 billion board feet per year over the past decade. The tree harvest on federal lands is now one-tenth of what it was in 1988, President Reagan’s last full year in office.
The California forest report draft concludes by observing that the “Current flux [of CO2] may not be sustainable without forest management!” while citing the challenge of “Aging of forests on federal lands.”
Unlike much of the American South and East, California has a distinct wet season, with Pacific storms rolling in by November or December and wrapping up by March. In even the wettest years (2016-17 was the wettest in 122 years) much of California is bone-dry by late fall. Thus, it isn’t climate change that sets the conditions for fires—it’s California’s natural weather pattern. Comparing acres burned in wildfires to weather and tree harvest data, there appears to be little link to climate—but a big connection to the growing forest fuel load, especially on government land.
Which brings us back to policy. If federal and state environmental policies continue to make it difficult and costly to harvest timber and manage the fuel load, then the wildfires will continue and they will be bigger and deadlier. This will, in due course, cause some politicians to blame the fires on climate change.
In the meantime, the timber harvest infrastructure is less than one-third of what it was 30 years ago, meaning that even if politicians were sincere in wanting to manage the public forests, there few people remaining to manage them.

The London-based Global Warming Policy Forum is a world leading think tank on global warming policy issues. The GWPF newsletter is prepared by Director Dr Benny Peiser - for more information, please visit the website at

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