Decarbonization and California’s 2020 Rolling Blackouts – Watts Up With That?

Decarbonization and California’s 2020 Rolling Blackouts – Watts Up With That?

Reposted by the Institute for Energy Research

April 20, 2021

“… The shutdown of the base load and the dispatchable generation has exceeded the substitute capacity with adequate properties, which are necessary to maintain the system reliability …. The California electrical system was ultimately unable to maintain reliable operation for the first time in nearly two decades. “

There should be news on the front page. Forced decarbonization of the power grid creates serious operational and planning problems and increases costs every step of the way. Reliable, economical power generation capacity is being laid off, and capricious, expensive resources are being replaced.

State regulation and planning of the network under a variety of state and federal laws creates worst-case events. Texas 2021 was predicted by California 2020, where intermittent resources also weakened a once powerful network.

Consider a new study from the Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners (NARUC) policy arm, the National Regulatory Research Institute (NRRI). Elliott Nethercutt and Chris Devon conclude that future studies of power outages and power outages (rolling power outages) are sure to repeat themselves: too much renewable energy, not enough base load power.

Unfortunately, the study ends with the old central planning fever: More and better analyzes are needed to match supply with demand. But read between the lines – and question authority when it comes to decarbonizing the grid.

Study highlights follow (all quotes):


  • A growing number of states have introduced renewable portfolio standards (RPS) through guidelines and commission mandates to reduce CO2 emissions in the electricity sector.
  • No state has redesigned its power grid with more ambitious guidelines than California, which introduced its RPS in 2002 and initially mandated that 20 percent of retail electricity sales must be renewable within 15 years.
  • This program has been adjusted several times, most recently through Senate Draft 100 (SB100) in 2018, which increased the demand for carbon-free generation from electrical retail to 60 percent by 2030 and to 100 percent by 2045.
  • The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is responsible for the implementation of this RPS program and is responsible for ensuring that the appropriate Load Serving Centers (LSEs) have sufficient capacity to meet the requirements of the program for the adequacy of the Commission’s resources .
  • Those two goals collided on Aug 14 and 15, 2020 when the California Independent Systems Operator (CAISO) asked utilities to initiate controlled rotating power outages on two occasions to maintain adequate reserves amid a regional heatwave.
  • These two load shedding events affected 491,600 and 321,000 customers, respectively. The California electrical system was ultimately unable to maintain reliable operation for the first time in nearly two decades.
  • Significant load loss events in the mass power supply system often result from a combination of factors…. including: actual loads that exceed projections; significant variability in wind and solar power; reduced imports from neighboring countries … and significant unit reductions and forced outages.
  • California’s rapid and sustained growth of intermittent resources such as wind and sun has flourished while base loads and shippable resources have declined.


  • … The three main causes were related to resource planning goals “not keeping pace” with the changing mix of resources, resulting in insufficient resources in the early evening hours to meet demand.
  • The events in August highlight the need for continuous improvement in resource adequacy constructs and the development and implementation of improved metrics to accurately assess an electrical system that will continue to be transformed by ambitious government decarbonization measures.
  • Today, most of the state’s solar resources are … behind the meter on the roofs of customers … The performance decreases rapidly after sunset, which leads to a sharp increase in demand, which must be served by other resources of the CAISO system.
  • Former FERC Commissioner Cheryl LaFluer recognized this problem: “For the past three years, California has stopped producing 5,000 MW of gas in order to build 3,000 MW of battery storage, which is still being planned. In a heat wave where every resource is needed, that resource void stalled. “
  • If you rely primarily on additional battery storage to address short-term supply bottlenecks, there is a reliability risk. The operators still have limited experience with shipping batteries in the system. The performance and effectiveness of battery storage systems depends heavily on their location. Even the most advanced batteries can provide a continuous, stable output of energy for a limited period of time (approximately four hours). Extreme heat waves can last for days…. Batteries that are located a long way from load centers can overload the transmission when attempting to feed in power when needed.

Conclusion: more, better planning?

  • Systems with increasing amounts of intermittent resources (e.g. wind and solar) require additional modeling and stochastic metrics, which can provide a more complete measure of the adequacy of the resources and help identify the associated reliability risks.
  • The continued development of advanced reliability metrics, including those that investigate risks beyond rush hour, can influence policy and government decisions to encourage the reliable move to a cleaner system.
  • Existing planning processes and reliability constructs need to better identify the system impact of resource failures and examine the status of essential reliability services on the system, including ramp capability, frequency response and inertia.
  • Regionalization can help promote reliability by pooling resources efficiently. However, increased coordination is needed to understand the impact of transfer restrictions and individual government policy objectives.

Check Your California Premises. Look at the consumer in terms of pricing and reliability. Reverse course, do not accelerate. Recognize and respect the value of dense mineral energies in generating electricity. Flashlights, candlelight, and portable generators are not the energy future you want.

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