California Power Outages
Power outages in California
A recent report from the California Independent System Operator (CISO) found that the state’s power grid is being overtaxed. The report said that while there was no single cause for the overtaxation, three factors combined to create a perfect storm. Among them: climate change-induced extreme heat wave and an increase in electricity demand.
PG&E reported that it had restored power to all but 312,000 customers
On Tuesday evening, PG&E reported that it had restored electricity to all but 312,000 California customers. The utility company blamed itself for the outages, saying that it had failed to maintain its power grid in a weather-resistant way. However, experts say the outage is a lesson that the utility must learn for future blackouts. As PG&E continues to rebuild its power grid and make necessary upgrades, deliberate blackouts will become less disruptive.
While PG&E says it has restored power to all but 312,000 customers, the true number is likely much higher. In many cases, one customer is associated with multiple homes and businesses. Also, some customers may have lost power for safety reasons. In these cases, power restoration could take two or three days.
Natural gas plants tend to run less efficiently during extreme heat
Heat has an impact on power plants in different regions. For example, power plants in New England typically burn more oil or gas during the summer months. On the other hand, nuclear and renewable sources tend to run. In California, extreme heat has a different impact. Depending on where you live, your power plant may run less efficiently or not at all.
There are two basic types of natural gas power plants: combined cycle gas plants and simple cycle gas plants. A simple cycle gas plant consists of a gas turbine connected to a generator. A combined cycle gas plant is similar to a simple cycle plant, but it also contains another external combustion engine. This type of plant uses the Rankine cycle to generate electricity.
Increased electricity demand
The hotter-than-usual summer of 2000 triggered a spike in California electricity demand. The state’s power system was unable to handle the demand, and rolling blackouts shook the Bay Area and then spread to cities throughout northern and central California. By March 2001, outages had hit the entire state. By that time, the federal government had stepped in and ordered utilities to purchase power from other states. However, problems with transmission lines and the rupture of a critical pipeline exacerbated the problem.
The worst month for power outages was October 2019, with 3,683 power outages impacting seven million customers. The spike was attributed to a spike in planned power outages to protect against destructive wildfires during hot, dry days.
California regulators have begun drafting rules to help utilities install microgrids. The state’s Senate Bill 1339 outlines a multiyear plan to help utilities develop the technology, and utilities filed an incentive plan last month. The public utilities commission will review the proposal through April.
The cost of microgrids is estimated in the millions of dollars, and those costs are typically passed on to ratepayers. In California, there’s a recent request for proposals from the state’s power companies to build 20 new microgrids near utility substations. The goal is to have the systems online by next fall, when the windiest season hits.
In 2013, San Diego Gas & Electric installed a utility-scale microgrid in Borrego Springs, a remote desert town. The microgrid helps the town stay in operation by powering its most critical services from onsite generation and battery storage. The city is home to two thousand people and has faced a number of extreme weather conditions, including fires and monsoon rains.
Reporting power outages
When you experience a power outage in California, the first step to take is to report it to your local utility. You can do this through your utility’s website, or by calling them directly. Regardless of how you report your power outage, you should stay as safe as possible. You should avoid touching fallen wires and call 911 if you have any medical needs.
Blackouts are a common occurrence in California. In fact, in the past two years, there were more than 50,000 power outages in the state. Significant blackouts are defined as power outages that affect one utility meter in a home or business. That’s over a quarter of California’s population.