What’s The Deal With Rolling Blackouts In California’s Power Grid?

A heat wave spreading across a large portion of the west coast of the United States is not surprising for this time of year, but the frequency and severity of these heat waves have been getting worse in recent years as the side effects from climate change become more obvious. In response to this, the grid operators in California have instituted limited rolling blackouts as electricity demand ramps up.

This isn’t California’s first run-in with elective blackouts, either. The electrical grid in California is particularly prone to issues like this, both from engineering issues and from other less obvious problems as well.

Infrastructure: An Old Problem

The physical problems with the electric grid are straightforward and covered often as part of the background noise of almost-forgotten issues with aging infrastructure systems as a whole. In a majority of North America, the electrical grid as well as roads, bridges, water and wastewater systems, airports, and virtually any other piece of infrastructure was largely built in the post-war boom following World War II and then essentially left to rot over the following decades. It takes a lot of maintenance to keep all of that infrastructure running, but it also takes political capital and a will to make sure that easily-forgotten things aren’t forgotten. As a result, maintenance budgets for virtually all infrastructure have been slashed resulting in several major catastrophes in recent years, as well as an uncountable number of smaller inconveniences that only signal an impending, slow collapse.

The electrical grid on the west coast of the United States is no exception. California experienced a population boom after World War II which continues to the present day. Most infrastructure problems, like elsewhere in the country, are only patched over while the entire system is barely upgraded to match demand. Anyone who has ever driven on a road in a major California city in the oppressive traffic will confirm this current state of affairs. When infrastructure is already taxed to its limits it only takes one straw to break the camel’s back. This straw was the Camp fire of 2018 which, while not the first or last wildfire caused by an issue with a power line, was one of the most devastating. In addition to causing the deaths of at least 85 people and burning down 153,336 acres, this fire also caused the bankruptcy of California’s (and the United States’) largest energy company, PG&E, which is still struggling to recover.

Map of 2019 California rolling blackouts as reported by Bloomberg

In fact, these blackouts aren’t the first (or likely, last) blackouts that California has seen even since the Camp fire. Last year a wave of rolling blackouts was instituted in northern California over the course of about a month as a result of increased fire risk. These more recent blackouts aren’t new, and unless a major overhaul of the grid is performed they will likely continue.

Sagging power lines may be a fire risk you haven’t considered before, but it’s one of threats at the front of grid operators’ minds right now. This year, California’s much hotter, drier summer has put additional strain on the electric grid as people ramp up use of air conditioning. However, more electricity on the stressed grid means more current in the wires, which means more resistive losses, which means that the wires expand more from that heat (not to mention the increased ambient heat from the heat wave itself) and they can sag into trees and other obstacles especially if the rights-of-way haven’t been maintained diligently. It’s a vicious feedback loop that puts a strained grid into a situation that can easily start fires, but is also the recipe for massive cascade failures like the Northeast Blackout of 2003. Despite this, efforts to upgrade the electric infrastructure are slow or non-existent. This is where we can start to see other non-engineering problems arise which are arguably worse.

Grid Operators Understand History

Most reports of the recent rolling blackouts (pay wall warning) indicate that the power grid was not operating at a capacity that would have necessarily required them, however perhaps out of an abundance of caution due to the heat wave and California’s history of power-line-induced fires the system operator decided to curtail power temporarily. There are other reports of a sudden loss of generation due to a lack of wind at the time, as California pushes to move more of their energy portfolio to renewables, however the system operator would typically have backup generation ready to bring online at any given moment, such as combustion turbines, hydroelectric plants, or other power plants, rather than resorting to rolling blackouts. While it is feasible that a sudden loss of wind may have contributed to the problem it shouldn’t have necessitated blackouts to solve, and with the amount of wind that California relies on this shouldn’t have been the first time they would have seen a problem like this either.

It’s important to note here that the operator of California’s electric grid is the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) which is a nonprofit that controls the bulk electric transmission system and is not actually an electric utility or in charge of any energy generation. The reason California has a system like this is convoluted but goes back to the passage of various legislation in the ’90s, the creation of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), and several other political moves over the course of about 15 years. Not every state or area has an independent operator like California, but due to these FERC requirements, and compounded by the Enron scandal, most utilities that operate their own bulk transmission system must at least behave independently. Although not directly a part of the larger accounting scandal that Enron is known for, they played a major role in causing another set of rolling blackouts in California in the early ’00s.

It’s easy to see the latest blackouts in two lights, both one of a straightforward engineering problem that needs to be solved, but also as part of a broader historical and legal issue that has gone back decades in California and will continue indefinitely, especially as the effects of climate change appear more and more. In fact, California has already started on its wildfire season this year and it is only the beginning, both for fires and for issues for the electric utilities in the state.

147 thoughts on “What’s The Deal With Rolling Blackouts In California’s Power Grid?

  1. It is important to note in this circumstance is also the California Governments policy of OUTLAWING the use of energy sources like Natural AS for use in newer construction, thus making things like Water Heaters, Dryers, and Things like ranges and ovens also be reliant on the electrical grid as well. This was done in the interests of instituting a ‘Carbon Free’ energy system, without taking much thought for the current state of the electrical grid, or allocating funding for upgrades or other necessary maintenance that will be needed by making this sweeping change. This was mentioned in passing in the article, but does need to be detailed more so the context or ‘..Changing its portfolio to renewables…’ can be understood.

    It also pays to note that part of the reason PG&E is filing for bankruptcy, is due to the fact the Government of California decided the power utility needed to be on the hook for all the costs associated with the Camp Fire. While the utility should be on the hook in some way for their negligence, if the Government wont allocate funding for maintenance and upgrades of the infrastructure, they can’t expect there to not be bumps in the road as they actively institute policies that increase demand and reliance on said utilities, as outlined above.

    The worst part of all this, in a complete 180 for the goals of the policy being pushed and implemented by these politicians, is that PG&E is now using diesel generators to fill the gaps in demand, totally negating the desired effect of these policies of the Ca Govt to become more green, and become more carbon neutral!

    The end result of all this is that the consumer suffers, because the rates go up, and quality of service suffers. Hopefully this can be a lesson to all of us to consider the impact of far reaching policy changes that, on the surface are seemingly innocuous, or appear to have some marginal benefits. I guess if they wanted to force the issue this has indeed done it, but at what cost?

        1. You don’t need to know much about engineering. That’s the engineers job. If you want to DISCOURAGE something, you tax it. if you want to ENCOURAGE a behaviour you don’t tax it. Most of the time, it’s literally just that easy. You don’t need pages and pages and pages of legalese either. Most policies like this can be done in one page or less.

          ie: if you want to ‘be more green’ you simply identify practices that are counter to that, and tax them. eg: tax fossil fuels.

          The rest is literally figured out by the market. Which you then have to review for practices that are not ecologically friendly as time goes on and the market develops. It’s literally a game of whack-a-mole. Case in point, who’s going to pay to properly recycle all the PV panels when they start dying? Sure as hell not the same people that profit off of them, because that’s not written into legislation. How about all these non-recycleable battery types? Lead acid batteries are great because you can refurbish, renew and reuse them… lithium based batteries? yeah right. So that just ends up being some tax that people won’t want down the line. “why do solar panels have a 5% tax on them?” well the answer is, so we can fund a FREE program to recycle them when they die”

          It’s confusing as hell to me why someone would tax labor. Taxing labor discourages employment. There are plenty of things we can tax to make up the difference and then some that we outright ought to get rid of. Like mergers and oligarchies. If you want to merge with another company… 5% tax on your entire company, every time you merge with another company. We’d sure as hell have a lot less oligarchs and more employment, but no no no. everyone looks at ‘gubberment’ and taxes as ‘the devil’ when in reality, the government and taxes is how you regulate your society to be fair and prosperous.

          anyway, there’s your civics rant for the day.

          1. It’s not that simple. When you tax things, you cause economic inefficiency which means people end up with less money to spend on new development, like green energy.

            The other point is, governments aren’t ideal either. When a government taxes something, they gain money, and they instantly spend it, but where they spend it affects their voters. When you spend money on people, you gain votes; when you stop spending the money, you lose votes, so the government can’t stop spending – thereby they can’t stop taxing – so they have to make sure the thing they tax does not go away.

            As the state can’t instantly tax fossil fuels away – that would make the voters revolt – they have to start small and then increase taxation over time. This being the case, the state will increase the tax until the price goes up enough that the demand starts to go down, and the tax revenue starts to go down, and that’s where they stop: they won’t tax a thing like fossil fuels enough to make it go away. They will only tax it to the point where it makes the maximum tax income. Otherwise they would have to cut spending, and that’s never a popular proposition, so they can’t do it.

          2. As a corollary, if a competitor to a thing like fossil fuels emerges, the state will tax it too – it won’t give up the tax revenue.

            So while electric cars are subsidized now – the state has a big problem: if people actually switch over, they lose billions and billions of dollars. What to do? Well, you have to start taxing electric cars until they’re just as expensive. There’s no way out.

    1. also california is full of self proclaimed hippies who are for protecting their environment while running their ac down in the 50s (to be fair im alaskan and a lot of people run their heaters 80+ in the winter, but we have enough hydro capacity for everyone). if they could get everyone to raise their thermostat a degree they probably would have enough power to go around.

      theres a reason they push 68 as the optimal temperature. its comfortable without putting a lot of demand on the grid. deviating more than 4 or 5 degrees, especially when the grid cant meet its capacity, its just a dick move.

      1. They should make a smart thermostat that prevents the A/C from running below 78F or the heater above 65F during peak times. That way, it will not interfere with heating or cooling more before the peak to allow even more reduction in energy use during the peak.

        1. _Nobody_ would buy those thermostats voluntarily, and have you seen how much people are freaking out over mandated water-saving toilets? It’s a good idea, and if you tried it in the US you’d have mobs of people with guns storming the state legislative offices.

      2. Why don’t they pick a place somewhere else along the coast, call it “New Hollywood” or something, and have a big campaign to cut and paste entire neighborhoods up there or something?

        Living somewhere with 80 degree heat on a regular basis sounds horrible. I can only imagine people go there because of the jobs, or because they have family and friends, but the place itself seems totally unsuitable for anyone but the biggest fans of warm air.

        So… Why don’t we do more to keep people who don’t like heat from going there in the first place? Why can’t somewhere else bethe world tech hu?

        1. One of the reason people move to california, is their somewhat normal, respectful treatment of minority groups.
          As a gay guy, i get the impression that only california and new york are states where i could somewhat safely give my boyfriend a kiss and walk hand in hand.

        2. I think you got your maths a bit wrong there. 80F ( I assume you meant F..) is only 27C which is a beautiful spring day! It’s right at the point of swapping into shorts!

          Surely nobody would be using air con if it was 27c…

      3. 68F is just 20°C I would not run an AC that low, because in summer I normally use short pants and a T-shirt (or short sleeve shirt). I typically put the AC at 23°C (73.4F) and the heating in winter to 22-23°C.
        At 80F (27°C) I would run around naked :-)

      4. I live in California and I have no AC. I don’t normally need it.

        Three weeks ago it was 105F (40C) here, this week it’s been highs of 66F (19C), cool but nor unusual summertime weather for us. The ocean fog is my AC.

      5. The funny thing they can make their energy woes go away while still protecting the environment if they simply embraced nuclear power.
        Doesn’t even have to be uranium they can use thorium based fission which makes far less nuclear waste.

    2. yup. Cali continues to be a prime example of “be careful what you wish for,” but they never seem to learn. Make all these decisions so they can feel good, but they often just make the problem worse, and even create new ones. But hey, the weather is nice, so the people just shutup and go with the flow.

        1. California is expensive because it’s too crowded, gentrification,and the allowance of outside investors to more or less use their real estate market as a money laundering operation.

      1. Was going to say the same – why would it be reasonable for the Govt to pay for maintenance while the Private Company collects the profits? Purchasing the “power system” comes with profits, losses, risks and litigation. Too many years of straight profit, and once a forseeable risk results in a lawsuit, it is suddenly ‘not fair’?

        If you can give me a good counter reason then I’ll support your argument. But I suspect I’ll be waiting a very long time.

        1. I don’t think there is a counter to the argument as it stands. However, one needs to consider that companies, public and private, don’t operate in vacuum.

          See, I don’t argue against utility getting the bill for major disaster. But I do believe that state government is in no position to act surprised or innocent. There are numerous instruments for regulating utilities.

          The energy has been problem in California for decades. Current situation is a direct result of 2001 energy crisis, and that was result of energy market deregulation. Nothing prevented state government in that period from acting, doing something, when the problem was known.

          The already mentioned mandates for consumers could have been tooled to encourage grid improvements. The deregulation legislation from the 90s could have been amended or even completely removed.

          The state of California is the most wealthy of entire union. The considerable tax revenue could have been used to buy stakes in utilities, to establish new power plants, transmission lines, or even rebuild the grid in it’s entirety.

          Instead they decided to wait and see what happens. Same thing with the transport infrastructure (the dreaded High speed rail), water conservation (blocked by environmentalists), or housing market insanity (caused by insane zoning laws and kept in place by homeowners).

          To me it seems like a man who left his car unlocked and wide open in a middle of a mall parking lot.

          If it gets stolen the thief should be held accountable. But WTF? Why didn’t he lock the car?

          1. “tax revenue could have been used to buy stakes in utilities, to establish new power plants”

            County Districts in Los Angeles did exactly that.

            The Solid Waste department built a “Trash To Energy” plant, 24×7 hooked to the grid.

            Landfills sucked methane to burn and generate power, sewage treatment plants did the same, both reduced the load on the grid, while sucking profits from the utilities.

            The sewage plant actually named the plant “Total Energy” as in supplying all facility needs and exporting the balance to the grid. Everyone saw the short term profit available as a go-gen.

            The landfill gas has tapered off a bit, and smaller turbines brought in to burn the remainders.

            Sewage still Total Energy..

            Trash To Energy disbanded,, High maintenance..

            These were started in the 1980s and revenue offset the cost of doing county business, reducing taxes to the public.

            Yes, I was there..

    3. For all the talk that california is this crazy pile of regulations, they still allow houses without solar on the roofs.

      Since so much of the problem is residential AC, if you’re really dedicated to progressive policies, why not just go all out and say nope, we’re switching to solar now, at the states expense, and if the taxes drive people out all the better to have less people in this nightmare zone of wildfires and blackouts?

      I’m sure there’s some useless stuff down there they could probably just drop if they need more money.

      1. Your fix would barely even inconvenience the wealthiest in CA while crushing the weakest. CA won’t allow that to happen, but they won’t do anything else either. So they will just sit and spin in a circle until it all goes down the drain. There is a reason behind the mass exodus of the middle class and small and medium business from CA.

        1. The strong adapt and survive while those that do not disappear. Darwinism at its most basic. I cannot for the life of me understand the sanity of Las Vegas, living in the middle of a goddamn desert, piping in the water from surrounding rivers etc etc jadda jadda. In a hunnert years who cares ? Most of us will with a 90% certainty be dead and forgotten.

      2. Solar isn’t the answer. See the Duck Curve. The peak demand is occurring after the sun goes down.

        Further problem is the ramp rate necessary to transition from mid-day solar to evening other power. This requires some form of adjustable and freely dispatchable form of generation that doesn’t depend on the weather, which means the gas turbines that they’ve been shutting down. They literally can’t increase solar production without breaking the grid.

        1. Solar and wind work best when paired with hydro electric as then you can use pumped storage to handle the duck curve.
          On their own they are too variable battery storage would be expensive and lithium ion like what certain companies push is probably the worst kind of battery for the task as they can’t handle deep discharges and are expensive.
          Vanadium redox, or even old school nickle iron cells would be superior to lithium ion in every way possible for this application.
          It’s stationary so mass is a non an issue while cycle life and safety are far more important.

          1. Oh, and there’s the problem that hydroelectric power has huge variations from year to year – sometimes drought, sometimes overflow, so it’s not exactly a “battery”. The water capacity you have is upstream, trickling down from last winter’s melt waters and from small pools and lakes, and you can’t choose how much or how fast it comes. Most hydroelectric power is run-of-the-river and can only be controlled a limited amount.

            Building new pumped storage is of course possible, but – you pay for it.

      1. True, that’s why L. A. County sold/leased the rights to the landfill methane at “Main Mission” to Getty Oil and gas. They extracted it, filtered it, and sold it to “The Gas Company”. The gas company shipped it to your house.

    4. IIRC a big part of what caused the problems (the ones that PG&E is on the hook for the costs of) is that the greenies wont let anyone do what is needed to keep trees and stuff away from the power lines where the trees can be a big hazard. Forcing PG&E to cover the costs for things that happened because the same government that is forcing them to cover the costs also refused to let them do the tree clearing and vegetation maintanence that would have prevented some of what happened from happening is stupid.

  2. That’s not democratic socialism, just state capitalism. It’s state owned corporations that operate independently of the people, rather than corporations owned by the people that operate under democratic control. Remember that the state is never actually the people under representative democracy.

    Countries are trying to get rid of it, because the state being responsible for such a large portion of the market creates a situation where the incumbent party has the power to punish and reward their voters with jobs and money. When privatization happens, there’s of course people complaining that their cushy government jobs with big benefits are going away and “everything goes to shit” when the whole big jobs-for-welfare-and-votes scheme comes down.

    1. And putting the corruption issue aside, when the state literally owns 50-60% of the market, and 50-60% of the people are employed in these operations, there’s very little they can do to rationalize the system. They can’t cut pay, they can’t close factories that are turning a loss, they can’t fire people for poor performance …anything they do will reflect badly on the standing government and cause their opposition to win the next elections, so nobody has any incentive to keep the system balanced. It’s like a runaway train.

      That’s basically what happened in Sweden – they were running a huge state operation that owned more than half the productive industries in the nation, including banks and railroads, public utilities etc. and they were sinking with the system. After multiple rounds of privatization slowly over time, they reduced the state ownership to 24% of the market and turned the economy up again.

      1. I bet they did – we had the same system. Tens and hundreds of thousands of people employed to lean on shovels on public worksites, and sleeping at desks at public offices, as a work-for-welfare system.

        As for Sweden, no bullshit. In 1975 the state was directly operating over half the economy, and playing “Keynesianism” by throwing arbitrary subsidies and taxes on everything, basically taxing itself as a result while sinking all the taxes it collected back into the businesses to keep them afloat. It was running into a loop, so they started selling off the state industries from around 1980 onwards. This was supported by both the social democrats and the center-right.

        As a result, nearly everything turned out more efficient and more profitable, and with the drop in service and product prices became new demand, which created new jobs to replace the ones lost from the public companies.

        But of course it created a bunch of people who were displaced form these jobs, who became very angry about this new “trickle down economy”, as you would put it.

      2. That tends to happen when the services were either highly subsidized prior to the privatization, or there’s no real competition and the government just sold the services to their best buddy.

        Privatization doesn’t automatically work. You need the market to have incentive to improve efficiency, for that you need real competition, for which you need proper laws and regulations to check that local governments aren’t just turning to crony capitalism.

        One example where privatization has failed also comes from Sweden, where the state turned the education system over to privately owned charter schools, but failed to regulate them or assess their performance properly, so the entire education system took a nosedive and fell from the top of PISA score lists in just a decade.

    2. Notice that it wasn’t actually an argument against democratic socialism – just against state capitalism, which is what these systems actually become when the government starts buying up industry and implementing the services.

      1. I for one, would DEFINITELY want my council rates spent on a private contractor if they could offer the same service for less, and we could re-allocate the saved tax money to other needs, or (Wait for it) Maybe lower taxes so people can spend more of the money they earn on things they want or need!

        The problem, as explained by DUDE(correct me if i am wrong), is when a Government Bureaucracy who cant be challenged, gets involved, and tries to monopolize providing of said services, rather than allowing ‘the best option’, whatever that may be, to be selected. Capitalism works when it is left to its own devices, because the MARKET WILL ALWAYS DICTATE what acceptable rates are, as those who are charging too much will be left behind by those who can provide those same goods and services for a lower rate. This is not fantasy, it is fact!

        Some things, though you may not agree, are NOT RIGHTS, but niceties that one must expend resources to acquire, and are not going to be free access for all, as much as some may want to argue they are.

      2. x3nox: the market decides prices if there’s market competition. Where I live it is nearly impossible to get an occupancy permit to a house that doesn’t have a connection to the power grid, even if it has solar, and there is only one provider of power. Under those circumstances there is zero competition. A company with a monopoly can raise its prices right up to whatever regulations exist to protect consumers, and then purchase legislation to keep raising those prices. A government entity generally has little or no incentive to raise prices as they don’t get to keep their money. It vanishes into a general fund, and they just get whatever they’re allocated. Under those circumstances it’s likely a government-run company will provide better service cheaper than a private for-profit company.

      3. So, you are claiming it is cheaper to pay a contracting company to do the work than it is to pay an employee? A contacting company is there to make a profit – which a government entity is not.

        I get it – that’s how the enconomy works. But what is happening is instead of putting money into the workers pocket, you are putting the combined ‘cream’ from the workers getting paid less into the pocket/s of a select few.

        And then the corruption starts…

    1. As CW alluded, both chambers of California’s state legislature has been controlled by one political party for nearly every year since 1959. That same political party holds every major statewide office. California is in this predicament because government ALWAYS knows what’s best–despite all the outside advice from engineers warning of problems with the current course of action.

  3. i’m no grid expert, but I do know that when municipalities force a grid tie system, they generally set it up with a unit that disconnects and shuts down all solar power on the home or business when the grid power goes down. They say it’s for safety of technicians, but why wouldn’t they just use a physical disconnect rather than having all power shut down? doesn’t make sense.

    anyway, point being, that once power goes down for long enough coming down FROM the grid, all of those mini solar stations shut down power UP TO the grid as well. They then won’t be restored until power is restored FROM the grid again. I don’t know what sort of effect this could create, but lets just say you have an area that is dense with these auto-shut down solar stations, and those stations start shutting down simultaneously, causing more to shut down, then overloading the portions of the grid that suddenly require MUCH more power than they did when all the tiny solar stations were once up, it’s like an instant overload. I highly doubt they build out infrastructure to actually deal with these surge requirements.

    but wtf do i know. just a thought.

    1. It has always been my understanding that the primary reason for most residential solar systems not allowing standalone use when grid power is down is a combination of lack of frequency sync as well as needing to have a battery system in place as a buffer/conditioner (similar to your car with the 12v battery+alternator. During normal runtime the alternator is doing all the work but the battery smooths things out and covers short discharge surges). The latter I think is more of the concern than anything and is probably an unwanted extra cost and maintenance item that most would forego.

      1. Most grid-tied systems have inverters that detect AC, as generally a lack of grid power means that someone is working on it somewhere. It more of a safety issue.

        But all of your neighbors would be driven by your system if power was lost, which at best would just cause your inverters to shot down from an over current condition.

        At one point I was considering running all might built in lights on a separate circuit, so if I lost power I can run the LED lights off an inverter and car battery.

        But after having a transfer switch added, I have a 5500 watt generator to keep the furnace and refrigerator running. It in a shed, which as part of an overall plan to grid-tie a small PV system (1200 watts for now)

      2. Another reason is grid safety, because there’s automatic cutoff relays along the line that latch open when power is lost. If they’re supplied from both sides of the line, they may fail to operate and the grid utility can’t isolate a fault. If there’s an area with significant solar generation, then the utility may cut the branch off, but it won’t shut down internally and all the solar panels keep feeding the fault.

        Plus the fact that solar power in “island mode” almost instantly crashes, because the supply never matches the load when it’s cut off from the grid at large. The inverters could in theory keep their own frequency and follow each other if there’s enough solar power available, but since everyone’s trying to sell all their extra power to catch that sweet net metering, the grid frequency goes unstable anyhow.

        1. The problem is basically the subsidy structure that guarantees prices for every solar producer, which means they face no penalty from trying to sell at the same time. Even if they had batteries, they would not put the extra power to storage because it’s worth more sold to the grid, since they get more expensive energy back kilowatt-for-kilowatt later. That’s why nobody has batteries, and why California now has to mandate the utilities to build them instead.

        2. Not being tied to the grid at all, is a net benefit for everyone involved at this juncture, however, most states mandate that you MUST be tied to the grid… I’d honestly just rather maintain a small lead acid battery bank and when i’m out of power, i’m out of power. Learn to use what I got in a reasonable manner. It is perfectly do-able and not too expensive to run everything you have off of an affordable amount of solar panels. The issue for MOST people lies in their laziness. The dryer. If you throw that pile of garbage out and hang dry your clothes, your electric needs drop by almost half. Hang drying clothes is one of the most eco friendly things EVERYONE can do without making any major sacrifices or changing regulations etc. etc. But nobody does it because they are either ignorant, or lazy, or both. We hang dry all of our clothes, half the bill we used to have.

    2. It is as said.. safety for the oresumed local lineman, awork at 50 ft on 12kv or higher, lines. You can supply AC signal and buy a battery and overcome this. The legal requirement is an AUTOMATIC instantaneous disconnect device. A modest $10K solar system (parts) that is 30$k once unstalled now has a 500 auto disconnect (at mains) switch and a 5000$ (?) battery… makes for a 40$k system. With gov’ts supporting 1/4 of the cost, now 750 people can buy in, not 1000. The backups were not perceived as needed, when the solar for everyone concept was created. It is legally doable.

      Few solar companies a decade ago would do this. It was not common and they all want wham bam, thank you mamm, mindless installs. This is common in every construction industry from floor-tilers in up. They make more profit from assembly-line speed than your average-plus, one-off. Here, you need a craftsperson… and they do not get volume discounts. Only big buyers can get their hands on panels – so you and he are almost locked out.

        1. If you maintain your batteries properly. They are usable for many years and DO NOT COST what most people say. The problem lies in the misinformation / lack of education regarding battery banks. Lead acids are still the best and most affordable, and they can last a LONG TIME as long as you engineer the system correctly and take some basic steps to maintain the bank correctly.


          I am honestly sick of people going around spouting off about battery banks being too expensive to maintain. Especially when they are using the wrong damn controllers, and they don’t size the battery bank correctly. If you correct both of those, keep your banks at 50% and make sure you have plenty of water, your banks will remain in GREAT condition for years and years. The only other consideration is to make sure your bank stays properly balanced. and none of this is that difficult or expensive. Not to mention the fact that you can literally refurbish your own batteries. Might not be like brand new, but you can stave off buying new for quite some time with these methods.

          ie: you configure the system to deal with the properties of the system over time, such as decreased efficiencies. Then when some bangin new battery tech becomes affordable, you just switch over to those. Til’ then, learn more about how to properly use and maintain lead acids. it’s not difficult, and it’ll save you money, then you can teach everyone else how to stop buying new batteries.

          ps: never buy an AGM battery unless you require a battery that may be used at extreme angles. eg: off-roading, boats, space stations,etc. agm is a gel material, but they are junk for most cars, they are not able to be topped off, and as soon as you charge or discharge them, they are basically garbage due to the property of being sealed. water filled lead acids only is what I am referring to for the purposes of this conversation.

      1. There is a HUGE problem with the lack of knowledge and execution regarding battery charging and maintenance. THAT is one of the biggest reasons nobody buys batteries. The customer has no idea how to properly maintain lead acids. They also usually end up with some shitty mppt charger rather than a good, fully programmable PWM model. They don’t check the water, they let their capacity dip below 50%, and then they wonder why some idiot with a 3 digit income and a 2 digit IQ comes along and says “you need new batteries”.
        A) they never had the proper education
        B) the seller/installer/repair personnel have no idea wtf they are talking about.
        C) The expectations they have of solar are not the same as the grid. On grid, you are literally paying a company through the teeth to take care of the whole thing for you. When you take your own power into your own responsibility YOU are responsible for it.
        D) people don’t understand the implications of grid tie vs off grid, etc. whether it be political, billing, engineering, or otherwise.

        I like this guy. Practical, and his methods work.

        I once bought an expensive trickle/maintenance charger that has a reasonably good reputation. However, when I actually started using it, i noticed that the ‘charger’ had a function that would literally drain your batteries and leave them flat. I called the company and asked them a)why? and b)is there a way to turn this off?. No to both, they said that I should get new batteries.
        It has a ‘full time desulfator’ on board, which is meant to help bring dead batteries back to life…. why the bum fudge would they have a function that drains the battery rather than just lettting it maintain and desulfate? The charger is targeted to MAINTAIN A WORKING BATTERY. Yet every time i put a battery on it, it ends up dead. under 10v somtimes down to 6v or so because of this “test feature”. Literally the dumbest thing I have ever seen.

        The best solution I have found, is to flush your batteries, refill and then hook them up to a small 18v (open current) .5amp (500ma) solar panel, and just leave them to sit out in the sun. Or just hook one of these up to your car or rv or whatever you want to ACTUALLY RUN WHEN YOU NEED IT TO. lol This maintains even a ‘bad battery’ with ‘bad cells’ at enough voltage and amperage to fire up even heavy duty diesel motors. Cost $30 bucks. Cost of the aforementioned charger? $90-120

        I know everyone is going to be like “half an amp is no power”, til you multiply it a) by the amount of time it’s getting sun. and b) the voltage is important. MOST of the energy in a lead acid is at the top 5-10% of the charge. in order to get those batteries to take a charge at the last 5% you have to raise the voltage in order for the battery to accept it. You don’t need a lot of amperage all at once, that’s actually counter productive as it’ll offgas your batts and ruin them. “quick charging” does the same thing. Hence why I’ll save literally hundreds to thousands of dollars on batteries where people are buying brand new ones every year or so. These principles all scale with the size of your battery bank. If you do a bank, you need to be balanced, but that’s a whole other conversation.

        1. The fundamental problem is that lead-acid batteries simply aren’t good or cost-effective for grid energy storage solutions in the first place. The upkeep and maintenance woes are a symptom of that.

          If you go out of your way, you can make them kinda-sorta work for you, but this is not the solution.

        2. “hey don’t check the water, they let their capacity dip below 50%….”

          You have to consider the issue with the mind that millions of people, tens and hundreds of millions, would have to use the system, and half of them have an IQ below 100 anyways. The present system supports people who barely understand how to change a fuse.

        3. Often you see chargers that have the cheapest assembly cost, and will just maybe work
          My D/C starter batteries for my gas turbines were speced out with Full Wave rectifiers rather that the common 1/2 wave units at Autozone. Seemed to work fine..

  4. There are two distinct types of blackouts we experience in California. Rolling blackouts happen when generating capacity is insufficient to meet demand, so a certain percentage of customers must be temporarily disconnected. As the name suggests, they roll from one block of customers to another, lasting a few hours at a time, so that the inconvenience is shared, and nobody’s freezer has to thaw out. I experienced one of those for two hours a couple of weeks ago, the first rolling blackout since the Enron rolling blackouts of 2001.

    We also have Public Safety Power Shutoffs, or PSPS. These happen during periods of extreme fire danger, when it is extremely dry and windy, as the utility determines that it is unsafe to leave lines energized. They will shut off an entire area served by vulnerable lines at once. They last for the duration of the weather event, and don’t rotate from one block to another. I experienced one of these during October of 2019, lasting three days.

    They may seem similar, and they both tend to happen in the hottest, driest weather, but they have fundamentally different causes, and different durations.

    They both make customers and voters angry, though.

    1. Thanks for the rational explanation.
      Yes people get angry, if you take something from someone they are used to having that’s a normal response. IE unexpected change. It seems people forget when there was no electricity in CA often. My Great Grandfather lived in Bakersfield during the Oil rush, he also had to explain to people why you prevent someone from shooting someone else at the time. Strange how someone stopping someone from murdering another human being, made people complain isn’t it?

  5. It sounds like story from communist country. In civilised world they should just bump prices until existing infrastructure will be enough or invest in infrastructure if it could make more profit. Where is the problem? Mis there price regulation?

      1. This smells like unregulated capitalism which is at least as bad as communism. You have a big country over there, and surely are the best in the whole world in some things, but sometimes I don’t know if I should feel worried or amused reading things like that.

    1. The way american companies run business, if they can manage it, is during good times, pay large dividends to investors, pay the executive officers tens of millions of dollars, and buy back their own stock, and during bad times, get federal funding to bail them out, pay executive officers tens of millions of dollars to retain their expertise, and then declare bankruptcy to get out of any other financial commitments they made and now want to renege upon. Yes, there is price regulation on public utilities. However, it tends to poorly correlate with utility cost, but correlate well with political pressure.

        1. It happens wherever the state decides a company is “too big to fail”, i.e. the corporate owners are the best buddies of the state so they get bailed out.

          But in reality, even if the corporation fails, the infrastructure doesn’t go anywhere – the real system is still there, and still continues to function to whatever degree it does. It would be the perfect opportunity to let it fail, and start re-building from what actually remains.

    2. FWIW, I live on the coast in CA so the summers for me aren’t so bad. I may have to run the AC a few days a week during a hot spell (month) during the summer. Usually only for a few hours. Many of my neighbors don’t even have AC but I work from home so I need it. That said, I finally got fed up with the ridiculous price increases over the past 5 years. Those few days and few hours I would run my AC would bump my bill to over $500. Just unconscionable. Now I have a 12.5kW solar system with plenty of energy to spare. I run the AC all day long now.

    3. You’re pretty much wrong. This is actually a beautiful example of capitalism failing.
      We see it all around the world. Infrastructure is built in the economic boom of 1950-1970, or some other legacy infrastructure is present.
      A formerly state owned service that was allowed to cost money instead of make money, gets privatized.
      The new owners demand profit. This means skimping on maintenance, because that increases profit on the short term.
      Meanwhile the infrastructure deteriorates due to age and lack of maintenance.
      If it’s essential infrastructure, this is generally the point where the state has to bail out the company… Because by now, the infrastructure needs more money than the company can scrape together

      Regardless of how high you make the electricity prices, this will keep happening. If you increase the price, the demand will also go down – people will try to use less – which levels out the amount of income for the company.
      It is a matter of the company dancing to the tune of the people who want to profit from it.

      Under eastern block communism, any infrastructure problems would not have been caused by using the electricity price to line people’s pockets with. In general, the issue over there was simply the lack of material (caused by imperfect state predictions of the demand, not having enough raw materials in the own trade block, and not having enough hard currency to buy it on the world market, or embargos), not misappropriating funds.

      If we take east-germany as an example – they had a LOT of nuclear powerplants. It was only last year that the last of the soviet-designed power plants was taken out of commission. AFAIK they didn’t have issues with power distribution, but they got hit very hard by the oil crisis of the 70s. CMIIW.
      Ironically, because of that, the CO2 output of Germany as a whole has been rising, because you can’t replace a nuke plant with solar and wind…

      1. >A formerly state owned service that was allowed to cost money instead of make money, gets privatized.

        The reason that happens is because “allowed to cost money” is a bottomless pit. The costs go up, and they’re never allowed to go down because the voters won’t let you – too many people depend on the spending and the political pressure is only to spend more, so the state sees is as a hot potato and toss it away.

        The new owners then HAVE to make money because they’ve PAID for it and need to make their own back, with a system that urgently needs trimming of all the excess unproductive fat – so the prices go up and the level of service goes down, including maintenance. When something bad happens and the state has to bail the company out, the fault just boomerangs back to them.

        This is not a failure of capitalism, but a consequence of the state creating an economic bung-up that will break one way or the other. It creates a sort of systemic debt when they allow the utility to run at a loss and grow at a loss without ever returning interest or even getting to zero. This is not fixed by taxing the money from elsewhere, because this merely shifts the loss elsewhere. You’re throwing some other people under the bus for sustaining this particular industry, which is actually producing less than it takes from your society so they’re winning at the expense of others, which is precisely what you want to avoid on both economic and social justice grounds.

        1. Basically, It’s the same people who pay the taxes that pay the subsidies to sustain their public utility that gives them “cheap” electricity from an inefficient and overgrown or misplaced infrastructure. Is this actually cheap? Of course not – it’s a loss for everyone.

          For example, if the state is building roads anywhere the people live, you always have to ask the question whether the people are then allowed to live just anywhere they please. If they are, then you’re at a bind – you have to build them roads there whether it made no economic sense whatsoever. This is the “allowed to cost money” deal – a public service has to come with limits, otherwise it is abused – but that is not an option for politicians who are looking to get elected in a democracy. They can’t say “no” to anyone. It’s only really possible for despots running a planned society.

    4. PG&E customer here. When I moved to my new place, I went from a local municipal power company to PG&E. My price per kWh nearly doubled. Fifteen cents to twenty five. And that’s just the first tier which I blow through because of AC costs. The only places where electricity is on average more expensive according to the EIA is Hawaii.

  6. When I toured the Grand Coulee Dam (Washington state) 17 years ago, the tour guide said the dam has the capacity to supply power to 13 Western states. Then, she added, when you hear about power shortages in one of those States, it is due to politics.

      1. they said “13 western states” they did not specifically state that california was one of them. Hell, i think the whole of montana only requires about 1kw to power the one town in the entire state. :-p

  7. No doubt, the electrical system in California is stretched thin to meet its various master. Customers want inexpensive, reliable power. Government and their special interests want low-carbon, renewable energy. Producers wants a profit to keep investors happy. And, this being California, nobody is happy with the outcome.

    California has a fairly significant renewable energy mandate. Consequently, per the California Independent System Operation, California produces about about a quarter of its average demand from renewable sources like solar and wind–the bulk being solar. From the website, it appears that the daily average peak demand is about 36,000 MW (36 GW). During the recent heatwave–on August 17, 2020, for example–peak demand was about 45 GW.

    If you look at the supply chart for August 17, 2020, you can see that renewables–mostly solar–produced nearly 13 GW of that demand. The big issue happened at the end of the day when renewable production dropped dramatically at about 5 PM. Who knew that solar stops producing when the sun goes down!?!? While solar production stops, peak demand continues throughout the evening, mostly as household run their air conditioners during the heat wave. Amazingly, it was “evil” carbon-rich fossil fuels that made up the difference this time, likely from expensive, natural-gas-fired peaker plants.

    Reliable low-carbon producers like nuclear and hydroelectric are practically profanities in California. California’s last nuclear plant is decommissioning in 2024-2025.

    California government has mandated that 50% of power generated in California come from renewable sources by 2030, while banning new installations of natural gas appliances, and mandating even more electric vehicles. At a minimum, California must also invest in storage solutions to support both wind and solar. It will be interesting to see if California can deliver on our 50% renewable goal.

    1. “The big issue happened at the end of the day when renewable production dropped dramatically at about 5 PM. Who knew that solar stops producing when the sun goes down!?!?”

      Well, the Sun hadn’t set by 5pm, but it is too “costly” to have solar panels track the Sun.

      Has a cost analysis (on a grand scale) ever been done on the payback of solar tracking v. fixed panels?

      1. Even tracking cannot make up for the atmospheric losses as the sun position shifts. In addition you have the further problem that if all you do is rotate the panels (which increases fatigue damage to the electrical cables and requires motors and control systems of some sort) they tend to shadow their neighbors. To avoid that means spreading the panels further apart, but that uses more land. But if more land was available then just adding more fixed panels would have made up for the loses anyway. Rotation is a consideration when only one panel is used or when the demand is low enough and the land cheap enough, but for large scales it doesn’t often work out.

        1. You honestly don’t need any of that. IRL solar panels really just need to be angled for their most effective hours of operation and left alone. it is MUCH CHEAPER to add another solar panel, than it is to add all of that tracking BS. it’s nearly a worthless investment when compared to the power of the dark side (of another solar panel). couldn’t help myself. ie: tracking systems cost thousands to install on a home scale panel system, 350 watt solar panels cost around or under 300 bucks. You gain more power and reliability and lower maintenance by just adding another panel. While tracking is ‘neat’ and ‘cool’ and ‘efficient’, it doesn’t make economic sense. and we don’t need ‘more land’. If you cannot power your house with what you can fit on the roof (with the exception of places that get little to no sun) then you seriously just need to hang dry your clothes. That will make up the difference, easy. If you want to save more power, put your oven outside in an un-air conditioned room like a porch. I honestly switched to induction burners a long time ago and never looked back. Less waste heat, easy to move. That plus cast iron like dutch ovens. Outside of that I got an insulated smoker big enough to feed my entire family and then some. I can run a full pork butt (not those half butts) 2 whole chickens and several racks of ribs, all at once. Super efficient, especially if you run your fire low and slow. I usually cook meat once a week or less using this method. When I ditched the dryer for hang drying, my grid bill cut IN HALF. You can cut it even further if you install instant hot water heater. Only pay for the heat you need.

          1. The incentive is not there. Since there’s no free market for the power produced, instead the power is paid back by subsidies on the energy produced, everyone makes the best return of interest aiming their solar panels the same way without tracking.

            You can’t “power your house” on solar without extra investments, like storage boilers for central heat and the shower after hours, batteries for cooking and watching TV, lights… etc. and all this investment is eating away from the margin. It costs you more to use your own solar power than it does to sell it to the grid and then simply take free electricity back in return.

            This is the main thing that needs to change, but if the subsidies are taken away, the price of solar power plummets because there is already an over-supply, so it’s a catch-22. All the choices you have at this point are bad. Enjoy.

  8. Just a thought, but if America spent a little more of its tax dollars on infrastructure and a little less it’s military perhaps it wouldn’t be in this situation. You wouldn’t even be loosing jobs as those in the military industrial complex could move into civil construction. Added bonus is the rest of the world might dislike you a little less.

  9. remember when you used to try to adjust your city budget to have money for a space microwave power station and then this guy says…
    yeah, thats basically us(US… Ayyyy), minus the space microwave power station.

  10. During the mid-day my solar panels were making more power than I was using. But I was swept up in the power shut off. Technically making the grid even shorter on power than before. Maybe not everyone is like me, but most of the houses in my neighborhood are decked out in solar panels.

    Next step, whole house battery. If I can’t be reliably attached to the grid then I need some way to continue using my solar panels.

      1. I believe states have a mandate that renewable sources installed in homes must shut off if no power is coming in from the grid (my guess is California is one of them). Now, they don’t let you use a transfer switch…I don’t know. Complexity maybe? (not necessarily that difficult, but they may not trust the “average installer” to do it right?)

        1. As the OP said: no battery. You need the grid to stabilize your micro-solar, or you need a battery to do so. Otherwise there’s no way to balance instantaneous load with instantaneous production unless you have a kilowatt-rated resistive load to dump into and a solar array sized to exceed your maximum possible draw, which means an even bigger resistive load plus a lot of solar that you’re not using.
          In theory electric cars could serve as battery systems for houses with solar during blackouts. So far nobody has such a thing in production. I know of two DIY systems that use older Honda Insights as battery backups for solar systems, but neither is grid-tied.

        2. most of the idiots that install ‘professionally’ have no idea wtf they are talking about, especially when it comes to batteries. Bad battery crimps, unbalanced battery banks, crappy MPPT controllers with programming that doesn’t fit the profile of the system. basically, a complete system requires proper engineering and considerations for a great many variences to be the best and most efficient it can be, but they don’t give AF, they literally are just maximizing the amount of money they can make and burning the bridge behind them. They will just move onto the next market and you have zero recourse, especially considering the complete and utter lack of SANE AND SCIENCE BASED regulations. lol


          If you learn, take notes, and practice, you CAN get good real world results. But I wouldn’t trust someone who’s just in it for the money, not one damn bit.

      2. You would need a seperate inverter from your “grid tie inverter” to run your pv system independently. Grid tie systems must disconnect and wait for grid restoration for 3 critical reasons. first is safety, if a lineman is working locally on a de-energized section and your inverter decides to randomly feed power to “the grid”, he may find himself as part of the lowest impedence path to ground. Second, speaking of impedance, if your inverter tried to stay connected to an area without utility power it would essentially be a dead short on its output. And Finally, when the grid does reconnect to your area- what odds that your inverter is perfectly in phase with the rest of the grid? Any shift is going to act like a load until your inverter can get back into lock step.

        1. “first is safety, if a lineman is working locally on a de-energized section and your inverter decides to randomly feed power to “the grid”, he may find himself as part of the lowest impedence path to ground.”

          Any lineman “worth his salt” will attach a grounding hook before working on a power line.

          1. The argument is a simplification.

            If there’s a fault in the local branch and the utility cuts it off, if there are generators down that branch they must all shut down to stop feeding the fault. The linemen can only enter when the power is actually down.

            If there is enough solar power under that branch, it may collectively provide enough power to keep feeding the fault regardless and for each inverter it just looks like the grid is working normally, because they’re all synchronizing to one another, acting as a big generator.

  11. Anyone with actual firsthand knowledge of the state of California’s infrastructure can easily explain the root cause of the problem:
    Politically based waste of tax revenue.

    You can argue any other points you want from any other perspective, but the root cause will always come back to that same fact. This state may boast some of the best places to live in this country (some may argue in the world) but we also have to claim things like insane costs of living in our larger cities, the highest gas tax in the country yet the one of the worst on roads (a 2019 list ranked us #7 for worst roads in the U.S,), ineffective state government agencies that perform mundane tasks (the CA DMV is the worst offender here), and in general, politicians that only care about the party that voted them in as opposed to the state’s population (or region for congress, senate, etc).
    Democrats and Republicans in California both agree that our state’s infrastructure is weak at best, yet they have very different views on how to fix it. Although, we continually prove that wasting more and more money with bureaucratic efforts is NOT the correct solution, our leaders still keep trying.

  12. Nuclear plants are the only green technology that can supply power in the quantity needed.

    On rainy days my PV system generates 60 watts, from four 300 watt panels. It’s great on hot sunny days, as that would be when the peak AC demand is. But overall its sort of meh.

    1. hydro is good too, terrain and climate permitting. there are ways to mitigate the environmental impact as well, fish ladders and the like. its probably the only renewable that delivers a reasonable output. california has quite a bit of desert and could probibly support large scale photovoltaic, or better yet solar-thermal with molten salt energy storage.

      im definitely pro nuclear though. big problem is the “not in my backyard” effect, as they usually need to be built near prime real-estate where they have access to water for cooling purposes. and their neighbors usually have lobbying power. if they could build a nuclear power plant in the desert with huge passive cooling installations that do not require a constant water supply, then you might see more of those put into production.

      1. Hydro is great…. But guess what? It suffers to when there is low water (we ran into that just recently). You can’t just ‘ramp it up’ and hold it there for hours on end. We ended up buying on the market…. Same problem you have with wind and solar. You need Nuclear, Coal, Gas for that ‘steady state’ energy — that everyone on the left wants to shutdown…. Strange world we live in as the people make the rules, don’t understand ‘how it works’. The media, environmentalists are not helping.

    2. Solar is actually better on Cold sunny days – the panels are less effective when they are hotter.
      You are part of the way to the answer there though – when solar/wind etc is really providing use more – managed the load to the supply to some extent.
      That said Nuclear does look like the only viable (ecologically speaking) backbone of a power grid for most locations. Be nice but probably wishful thinking to expect people to go back to living their lives around the weather (and the energy it provides) and no amount of energy storage can really level that out fully, always going to be that period without much supply or surprisingly large demands.

  13. Those that fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it.
    I witnessed the problem back in the 1980s, when the federal government mandated higher pay for “Co-Gen” power plants.
    So Cal Edison was selling power for 4 to 6 cents a KW, yet forced to pay 12 cents to start-up Co-Gens.
    To say this pissed off Edison would be accurate.
    Fast forward a bit, Edison mothballs a few of the larger gas powered generator stations.
    The next step, sell them so they can claim “No More Capacity”.
    Who purchased the old gen stations? Well, the company itself did. Like most corporations, there were several levels available, so they were sold “Upstream” to a higher level of the corporation.
    Then the Enron fiasco happened and prices skyrocketed.
    And yes, to quote many above this post, GREED is the driving force almost everywhere.
    Perhaps there are a few hippy chicks that are only driven by free weed and love, but I’ve been away from that for a while.
    The a fore mentioned greed can be a diving force in crumbing transmission towers.
    Nobody wants to be “That Guy” who says “Spend Money!
    Do we have a solution? Spend more, tax less? Sounds good to me..
    No problem there..
    And do not even think about the bullet train to nowhere.

  14. that’s because “trickle down economics” came out of a republican think tank, trying to get broader support of capitalism. meanwhile all the people with wealth shifted it abroad and didn’t bother to reinvest in the country that gave them the freedom and opportunity to get rich in the first place. hell you cant even get them to pay their damn taxes because its “socialist” to obey the tax code.

  15. Let’s combine a perfect CF of corporate greed, political greed, a VAST number of idiots and more corruption than can be conceived and then wonder why things don’t work. Having heard one of the “small” green energy providers give heartfelt explanations of how utilities don’t make $ on power generation any more, I can say it’s only the end users who will suffer in the end. Everyone else gets tax income, taxable services, tax credits, quarterly bonuses, tax write offs, taxpayer funded committees, golden parachutes, HUGE consultancy fees and taxpayer backed pensions. Oh, we also get to pay for the legacy Superfund site cleanups.

  16. I read this article with a lot of interest … I can’t understand why in such a big country like USA , said to be at the “highest level of civilization”, power outages still occurs …
    I live in France: I can’t remember when the last power outage occurred in my house. Every year we heard at news about power outage that occurred in some small towns because a big storm make some trees to broke power lines, but nothing like what this post talks about. Dedicated services always solve the issue quickly: even if the line only supply one or two houses. Because in France, power distribution was a public service (managed by the state): so there is a real man power to do the job, and everyone can ask for the same service (don’t mind if you are rich in a big city, or not)… Well, this is still true … for some more years … because there is still the man power …
    Since power distribution should be opened to the “concurrence”, every private company can sell electricity … So now we can contract with such a company… it costs more, they sell your private data to big companies … and when you have a problem, you can’t call a human person …
    If we dig more in the past: before, the french posts were state hold … Every one complained about postmen … they were supposed to be lazy, to have to much holidays … but the reality was that one letter took less than one day to arrive in France, even if it was sent to a home lost in the forest and the postman delivered letters twice a day … this was 10 years ago … Now a letter usually take one week to do 50 kilometres … Postmen deliver letters 3 times a week … The french post only offers small contracts to their employees, and pay less … Other companies that deliver letters and packets rose their prices … and the service is less good than before …

      1. Big doesn’t help. But France isn’t small, and the USA is not as joined up infrastructure wise as most ‘developed’ nations so each state could really be compared quite fairly to a European nation – some connections and collaboration over the borders but its not really a fully unified system (at least that’s how it looks to me from here – but I don’t have any direct experience either.. there’s a pond in the way).

  17. It’d be easier to believe those in politics who tell us we are threatened global warming if they’d actually take some concrete steps to prepare for it. If it’s going to happen, it doesn’t mean we all die. Humans are not only incredibly gifted as making climate adaptations, we’re basically warm climate creatures. It only means a little more discomfort in the summer and perhaps a little less in the winter. In the case of California, those who believe in warming should be the ones demanding a power grid better able to handle longer and hotter summers.

    1. Humans? Maybe. But we depend on stuff lower down the food chain, and they, lower down in turn. My low chill cherry tree has been incrementally but hugely worse over every year this past decade. Birds migrations have been stable for centuries, now have been moving northerly at 4+ miles per year. State birds and plants will have to be rethought. Bees die due to the dryness removing forage. No moisture, nothing for chickens (et al) to free range upon. It’s a complex system of balance, despite it cycling like V from an upstream oxygen sensor. Just remove 1 sensor in your car and see what happens.

      My grass supplies O2 for 4. Maybe 8 when tall, but then neighbors b__ch, as they put in cement and gravel with a nod to a couple cactii.. and shunt water for aquifers to wastewater plants for rapid disposal. But permaculture and forests-cum-desert expansion demonstrate that moisture begets moisture. Burying carbon, planting.atip it, watering it, acts like priming an old style hand pump.

      We have_(had) a system balanced like a modern car computor system, but we-many tried to run it for short term gains like a carburator enrichened to accelerate better, cost (of any type,) be damned.

  18. If you read the article, you would see that the problem is excessive draw on the WIRES, not the generators. The wires can’t carry the demand placed on them, and sag with the heat generated by the excessive load. This coupled with heat waves causes the wires to sag and short out. The gov’t can’t control the weather, but they can control the current through the wires and cause rolling black outs to limit the current through the wires.

  19. @MW, having been born and raised in Los Angeles and having lived there for almost as long as you, I can attest that everything you said is spot on. I finally had to move away a few years ago, and damn if others aren’t following along behind me. A lot of folks are being driven out of California because of taxes and crime, Problems they, themselves created. Unfortunately they’re bringing their liberal beliefs/politics with them to the other states. Texas and so many other states may go blue this year because of all the folks moving there from the West Coast.

  20. That is all PG&E territory. Because of lawsuits and liability in the past decade, PG&E is shutting down power to high volume areas to prevent any electrical mishaps. Look up the Paradise, CA. lawsuit, this is the reason for rolling blackouts.

  21. here again someone who blames the failures of socialism to a non-existent “capitalism” or whatever you call it.
    grids used to work not because they were state owned, but becase the idiotic glo-bull warming scam was not invented yet, so grid and power plants operators had just one job: produce whatever energy was needed in whatever way necessary, and they refined it to down to a science.
    really anyone here think that mandating the integration of a shitload of non dispatchable, intermittent, unreliable energy sources in a grid have no role in rolling blackouts?
    and btw. if you think rolling blackouts are not coming to australia, you have not paid attention

    1. The US power failures are due to transmission failures, not some kind of green energy conspiracy causing a lack of power generation.

      Also, how do you explain Canada where 60% of energy is renewable and most power generators are crown corporations, municipal corporations, or the largest shareholder is the government?

  22. And yet, here in Texas, *our* infrastructure isn’t rotting, we don’t have blackouts and our grid is quite stable despite enormous wind farms. HOW could that be? What difference could explain the fact that we don’t have blackouts or fires due to non-maintenance on our transmission lines?

    What could it be?

  23. Ugg this is like reading the excuses from non-profits that make millions a year but have no record of doing anything..

    Hey folks!!! Keep paying so we can say there is already someone taking care of a problem!!

  24. “California experienced a population boom after World War II which continues to the present day.”

    Well, maybe that’s the problem. I mean despite everything we just read here if I took a pole of HaD readers who wants to bet that I wouldn’t find a whole lot more people from outside of CA with hopes, dreams and/or plans of moving to CA than readers in CA thinking of leaving.

    Isn’t CA already pretty much sucking the Colorado river dry?

    Maybe instead of improving the infrastructure to move resources to where people are we should be looking for ways to encourage the people to distribute themselves better according to where the resources are. Otherwise fixing problems like this just help enable unsustainable populations to grow even less sustainable.

    Then, with the people where the food and water are, we can build up the more artificial infrastructure like roads and the power grid in those places.

    This is probably not going to be a popular opinion but I don’t think it’s without merit. It beats just heading to Vegas to party until the water runs out.

    1. It always comes down to crying “But what about MY community?”, or “What about THEIR community?”.

      It’s always a tragedy when someone loses a home or becomes poor, a neighborhood is run down, etc. and people always want to help – but in helping they often maintain the tragedy. It is what you could call, a plague of saints.

  25. The problem with California’s forests is not for lack of maintenance, it’s because of the century of fire fighting. It was going wrong long before WW2.

    Once the forests are back to the state from a century ago, a time when you could travel by carriage through the California forests, burns planned or not can hope to stay contained again because of the lack of crown fire spread. Currently any fire source there has a high chance of becoming a disaster. There’s lots of fire sources, even if you turn off electricity.

    1. Agree..

      Welcome to the (Unnecessary) Mega Fire Generation!

      By Del Albright, Fire Chief (retired)

      25-30 years ago, a 10,000 – 15,000-acre fire was a huge conflagration. Now we are experiencing 100,000 – 400,000-acre fires regularly.

      I would like to offer an explanation based on over 30 years of government service including 26 years with the fire service, as well as beginning my fire career with a Master’s Degree in Prescribed Burning.

      NO! It is not just global warming (climate change).

      NO! It is not understaffed or ill-trained firefighters.

      NO! It is not Mamma Nature getting even with our urban sprawl.

      NO! It is not careless campers or hunters.

      NO! It is not kids with matches.

      YES! It is a combination of many things but more importantly, it is the LACK of forest/brushland/grassland management caused by wacko, radical enviro groups imposing excessive regulations, and restrictions on our ability to keep the west safe from wildfire.

      Here are the key takeaways from this article:

      · The lack of controlled burning/prescribed fire is directly responsible for the huge build-ups of flammable fuels.

      · The end of maintaining fire breaks (roads) in forested areas leaves firefighters with inadequate access.

      · The end of logging and good timber management as we used to know it is directly responsible for forests that are now tinderboxes.

      Let us take a deeper look at these reasons.


      Going back to Native Americans in America, controlled burning (later called Prescribed Fire) have saved the west from huge conflagrations. By burning large brush fields and using fire to thin understory brush in the forest, we kept the big boomers at bay. We had programs designed to reduce “chaparral” in the west, thus limiting the ability for fires to get ragingly out of control.

      In the early days of settling the west, ranchers regularly burned brush fields to make way for grazing and wildlife habitat.

      This entire program of controlled or prescribed fire is a near thing of the past.


      When I started with the fire service in the 1970’s we had regularly scheduled building, repairing, cleaning, and maintaining fire breaks around rural housing areas and developments. We kept fire roads cleared and usable for large fire equipment. We had access to remote areas which allowed us to attack fires when they were small. Roads provided a place to start a safe backfire. Oh, backfires! Another art nearly lost today due to liability and excessive oversight by the media and radical enviro groups who have political power.


      If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you probably remember sawmills. They are all gone for the most part because the radical environmental rules have made logging a financial nightmare. You wonder why wood is so expensive these days? We cannot log; that’s why. Yes, there are still a few holdouts logging here and there. But the feds are hampered by so many regulations and restrictions that our timber stands either get bug infested or succumb to wildfires.

      We used to thin forest stands regularly – fire crews, inmate crews, machines that munch up underbrush, and yes, even pesticides to keep the forests healthy. Now, you can pick about any state in the west with timber and you see more bug-killed trees than live ones!

      In our western grasslands, the lack of proactive landscape management in desert states has resulted in vast acreages dominated by a cheatgrass-fire cycle that is ruining wildlife habitat and causing bigger and more damaging conflagrations. This invasive species needs to be managed or these western deserts will never be the same – nor will our wildlife species.

      In timber areas, for the most part, we no longer control pests and bugs; we no longer do any substantial thinning of the underbrush; logging is kaput, and forest management is a façade. It is not the fault of our public land managers; it is the imposition of radical regulation. It is politics.


      Public land management is no longer based on science but rather politics. The same goes for wildlife management. Radical enviro groups lobby politicians (and raise untold dollars in support) to STOP all the things that will make our forests, brushlands, and deserts safe and healthy. It is ironic (and pathetic) because for all their efforts to “save the world” they are destroying our world, piece by piece.

      To see fires in California reach half a million acres is beyond belief!

      What can we do? We must STOP the silliness and over-regulation and allow sound public land management, never forgetting that public lands are FOR the public. Help good politicians get elected and stay in office. Recall bad politicians. Do everything in your power to negate, refute, or STOP the radical movement that has stagnated management of our resources.

  26. So the article and many of the comments seem to miss several fundamental points.

    Let’s start with the basic fact that PG&E is a recidivist felon. (Multiple convictions for multiple felonies over many years). Remember, this is the same wonderful corporation behind the true story “Erin Brockovich”.

    Now, let’s talk about the fact that the article conflates two different things and doesn’t really do a good job of describing either one as a result.

    Thing 1: Public Safety Power shutoffs
    Thing 2: Rolling blackouts for capacity purposes

    Thing 2 is utterly unrelated to fires. Thing 1 has a complex and stupid relationship to fires.

    Let’s discuss Thing 2 because it’s relatively simple. When Cal-ISO (the grid operator for California, theoretically independent pseudo-governmental agency tasked with running the grid) decides that there’s likely to be or is more demand than the grid can support, they will call for rotating outages and the various utilities will comply. Who gets hit with these is the determination made by a couplex set of policy rules and in some cases a random number generator. This has nothing to do with fire safety, fire danger, etc. It also has little to do with generating capacity in most cases. California has more than ample generation capacity well beyond the most demanding heatwave, but the ability to move that power from where it is generated to where it is being used is where grid capacity comes in and where limitations of grid capacity lead to unnecessary rotating outages.

    Now, for Thing 1, Public Safety Power shutoffs, there’s a bit of historical context required here…

    Several years ago, PG&E asked the state for money to manage vegetation close to their power equipment. The state forked over a pile of money which PG&E swiftly spent on executive bonuses and shareholder dividends. The vegetation got left alone.

    A little while (couple of years or so) after that, we had our first round of big fires courtesy of PG&E and PG&E tried to extort more money for vegetation management out of the state. Fortunately, the governor wasn’t asleep at the switch and basically said “what about the money we already gave you for that purpose?”

    Fast forward a little further and since the government didn’t want to give PG&E more money to do something the government had already paid them to do, PG&E decided to try and recruit the public and make the government look bad. Thus was born the public safety power shutoff. This did not turn out the way PG&E hoped in the first year when the criteria was basically “if there’s a slight breeze we can shut off half the state’s power”. The people of California rightly protested against PG&E and saw through the charade for the most part. PG&E didn’t get the pressure for more funding out of the public that they had hoped. Now, they’ve significantly scaled back when they shut the power down, but it remains somewhat arbitrary. They still refuse to do the needful in terms of vegetation management and I think they’re still hoping to get state funding.

    Personally, I think the state should go after complete control of PG&E in the sentencing round of PG&Es next set of felony convictions and dump the board, senior management, etc. As much as people like to claim that the government is incompetent or not good at … I cannot imagine them doing particularly worse than PG&E over the years and they’re far less likely to do it in a felonious way that ends up killing people.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.