Discover more from Green Leap Forward
CA Blackouts: Gaslighting or Gas-Saving
Hello Fatal Trifecta my old friend, you've come to shut my power off again...
Yesterday morning, Governor Gavin Newsom, follower of The Science™, issuer of last week’s State of Emergency granting exceptions to air pollution limits1, master of optics2, and a HUGE reason CA is in this mess in the first place, sent out a video wearing a jacket asking Californians to cut down their energy use after 4pm. One has to wonder exactly where he was in a state with a record-setting heat wave where it was that cold.
To add greater insult to injury, at 5:37 PM, he sent this from his personal account.
The statement, “We are now in a Flex Alert” is inaccurate.
Flex Alerts, per CAISO policy are issued by 3pm the day before.
When he sent that tweet, CA‘s grid was in the most severe level of emergency, Emergency Alert 3, or EEA3. CAISO declared the EEA3 at 5:17 pm!
EEA’s are issued whenever they’re required as electrical supply is unable to meet demand.
For context, below are the types of emergency notifications CAISO issues. Notice “Flex Alert” and “Emergency Alert 3” are at the opposite end from each other.
That particular statement in the Governor’s tweet is equivalent to telling citizens it’s raining outside when instead they’re actually in a hurricane. The rest of the message is okay but accurate information from leadership matters.
Fortunately, at approximately 5:50pm, the CA Office of Emergency Service (OES) who work directly with/under the Governor send out SMS messages to all mobile phone users in the State. The EEA3 declaration likely triggered these messages. AND, fortunately the Governor has competent people working for him, well and Californians.
Electrical Utilities (PG&E, SCE, SMUD, SDG&E, etc.) likely sent out their own messages if customers provided their phone number and permission to receive messages to notify them to reduce their use and if their home or business was located on a circuit where a rotating blackout was likely to occur.
Despite the Corporate Press covering this heat wave and associated electrical grid issues quote thoroughly, Robert Bryce notes the following in his excellent piece, California’s Energy War on the Poor
Blackouts in the state have become so common, particularly in the Bay Area, that media outlets have largely quit reporting on them. Nearly every day, maps of Pacific Gas & Electric’s service territory show outages across wide swaths of central California.
So barring personal anecdotes (my circuit wasn’t scheduled for blackouts) it was vital to take to the web to see what was going on.
Naturally, Twitter is an ideal place for this.
Alameda sent this out at 6:20 pm:
Followed by, at 6:31 pm:
Then at 7:11:
At 7:28, the notified their customers that the second hour of blackouts were not needed.
The City of Palo Alto (home of Stanford University) cut power for approx. 1700 customers around 6:29 pm.
About a half hour later power was restored:
SFGate indicated the city of Healdsburg (pop approx. 12,000) started rotating blackouts and linked to their website but it appears the city either removed the notice or SFGate provided a bad link. Emmet Penney, aka Nuclear Barbarian, who writes the excellent newsletter GridBrief, shared a screenshot of a tweet in both English and Spanish from their Twitter feed but that tweet appears to be deleted as their last tweet is from August 18th.
Interestingly enough, CAISO at 8pm declared the EEA3 state over and stated there were no load shedding events.
Perhaps they’re operating a different set of definitions than I am but my years in and out of this domain lead me to believe that rotating blackouts are a type of load-shedding event.
Needless to say something happened last night.
Context for Upcoming Charts.
All these charts are taken directly from the CAISO website.
The X-Axis refers to time, in 24 hour format, Y-Axis refers to Megawatts (MW). CAISO splits their electrical supply charts apart from electrical demand. And further, to add a bit of confusion the split demand up as well into separate charts. It’s possible to download the .CSV files of each chart and combine them in Excel but the charts get really noisy and I’m too lazy to play around with all the formatting. The charts are as follows:
Figure 1: Demand Trend
Figure 2: Supply Trend by Renewables Only.
Figure 3: Supply Trend With All Resources (Baseload + Dispatchable)
Figure 4: Supply Trend by Battery
The red box in each chart is to simply call attention to the area where supply and demand issues tend to occur (between 4pm and 9pm). This timeframe also typically coincides with Flex Alerts, yesterday’s EEA3, and potential blackouts.
The drops in the demand were noticeable3, especially around 6:00 pm. This is shown below in Figure 1.
CAISO’s demand trend below shows two noticeable drops in demand.
The first major jump down occurred between 5:00pm and 5:20pm and dropped approximately 1,038 MW.
The second jump, a bit more dramatic occurred between 5:50pm and 6:10pm with a drop of 2,400 MW.
Neither of these jumps coincide with the times of the rotating blackouts mentioned previously, plus these were quite small outages anyways of only a few thousand customers. My hypothesis is that the second jump may be a response to the SMS messages and perhaps some extremely large loads such as factories powering down temporarily if they hadn’t done so already.
But what about the supply?
As predicted, The Fatal Trifecta, the concept introduced by energy expert and author Meredith Angwin, (I wrote about this here) somewhat reared its ugly head.
To review, The Fatal Trifecta, consists of:
Over-reliance on renewables which are weather-dependent, often not available at times of high demand, not dispatchable, and make poor baseload power.
Dependence on Just-in-Time4 Natural Gas
Overdependence on Neighbors for Imports
Referring to Figure 3 below shows the various types of renewables. But California’s main renewable source is solar power, which when working at full capacity, typically between the hours of 9:00 and 3:00 pm, can provide upwards of 13,000MW to the grid. That’s impressive but that solar energy starts to drop off drastically just as demand is climbing (compare back to Figure 1). California also was wind energy supplies but we shown in Figure 3, they really didn’t kick in until about 6:30 and by 10:00 when the grid emergency was largely over only provided just shy of 3,000MW.
All the other sources of renewables (for some reason CAISO doesn’t count large hydroelectric as renewable) were background noise.
So what saved California last night?
Natural Gas mostly along with Imports5 from neighboring states.
Both of these are very clearly shown, against total renewables, in Figure 3.
But what about batteries?
Much like wind - background noise. Much of their capacity was already depleted prior to the most extreme times of the emergency.
As hundreds of millions of people mainly the developing world can attribute, unreliable electricity, especially during extreme weather events, can be literally a life or death situation.
Regardless of what happened last night, Californians were extremely lucky6.
Electrical energy is “consumed” (demand) at almost the exact moment it’s “created” (supply) Any mismatch of the two spells doom which is almost what many residents could have seen last night.
Eventually Californians are going to grow sick and tired of so many Flex Alerts, so many EEAs, so many text messages that all will fade into becoming meaningless. At the same time the Golden State’s Green Leap Forward is supposed to move ahead to full steam electrification, mass EV adoption, and a transition away from grid-saving energy sources such as natural gas.
Thanks for reading Green Leap Forward! Subscribe for free to receive more energy wisdom.
Power plants allowed to exceeded EPA pollution limits, diesel generators allowed to run, etc. This is because there was an anticipated lack of supply to account for the demand to be experienced in this heat wave. All the excess pollution including carbon emissions are most likely excluded from all the official counts. Talk about an Environmental Justice win!
Dining indoors with lobbyists at one of the most expensive restaurants in the state during COVID lockdowns, and wearing street shoes and perfectly clean clothes for a
homeless encampment cleanup photo-op aside, this is the same imbecile who tried to lecture Californians on gun safety and POINTED A GUN AT THE CAMERAPERSON, months after the Alec Baldwin ordeal.
Typical demand response curve. Notice the smooth decrease as opposed to the “jumps” shown in the 9/6 chart.
Natural gas is often difficult/expensive to store on site at a power plant, such would require liquifying it and storing it in tanks. Therefore it is delivered at the exact moment required to power plants via pipeline. This proved to be a huge issue in the 2021 Texas Blackouts as natural gas was diverted to heat buildings.
Imports come from all the Western US and can be anything from the large hydroelectric damns in the Pacific Northwest to coal plants in Wyoming, Utah, or Colorado, to wind or solar (not at night) in states such as Wyoming or Arizona. Imports however are not always available, especially when those areas are facing their own energy issues. Fortunately this heat wave didn’t hit those areas as severe or as long a duration as it’s been hitting California.
The reality too is that no first world nation, let alone a state whose residents often brag about being one of the largest economies in the world, should ever have to deal with worrying about whether the grid will work or not.
This is also coming from a so-called progressive place where the typical politician, bureaucrat, and many residents like to repeat magical phrases (as if it’s a religion) such as “environmental justice” and “equity” while pretending they’re looking for for those in underrepresented communities. The inability to provide safe and reliable electricity slaps these platitudes in the face as it’s these groups who suffer the most- to help these folks the most requires hard principles based in logic.