The Day California Went Dark Was a Crisis Years In the Making

At-a-Glance: 

Signs of a problem within California’s power system emerged a full day before the blackouts hit. Trader Dov Quint sat in his basement outside Boulder, Colorado, scouring the state’s day-ahead power market for opportunities to profit from California’s heat wave. He saw something strange: Prices for electricity to be delivered the next day – the day of the blackouts – were nearing $1,000 a megawatt-hour, more than 26 times higher than last year’s average. To learn more, read “The Day California Went Dark Was a Crisis Years In the Making.” (Reading this article requires a subscription.)

Key Takeaways:

  • At 2:56 p.m., a gas-fired plant unexpectedly tripped, sucking 475 megawatts of power from the grid. The state ordered power suppliers to fire up reserve gas units to make up the difference.
  • But there wasn’t enough reserve gas generation to go around. The state had retired 9 gigawatts of gas capacity — enough to power 6.8 million homes — over the past five years. The state is also planning to shut down Aliso Canyon, which has been operating at reduced capacity after the biggest gas leak in U.S. history was discovered there in 2015.
  • California Independent System Operator had been warning state regulators for years that there weren’t enough power supplies during the net peak period in summer and that it faced a potential shortfall of 4.7 gigawatts in the evening hours starting in 2020, said Steve Berberich, head of the grid operator. 

Path to 100% Perspective:

 The path to reliability and sustainability is flexibility.  Flexible capacity allows maximum use of variable renewables such as wind and solar, while also ensuring the constant and reliable flow of electricity. Flexible power plants can turn on and off in a matter of minutes in response to changes in wind or sunshine. Unlike inflexible, traditional gas and coal plants, flexible gas plants don’t need to keep running all the time, so they burn dramatically less fuel. Power-to-hydrogen and power-to-methane powered by renewable energy produce fuels that act as long-term energy storage, accommodating needs arising from seasonal changes and providing backup power during long-lasting unusual weather events. Once 80% to 90% of electricity in a system is generated with renewable sources, utilities can convert flexible generation plants from burning fossil-gas to running on synthetic carbon-neutral or carbon-free fuels produced with excess renewable power.

 

Photo by Gilberto Parada on Unsplash