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New report from NERC shows California at extreme risk of energy emergencies this summer.

image credit: Courtesy EIA
Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

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  • Jul 19, 2021 10:25 am GMT
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California finds itself, once again, at risk of serious energy emergencies as the state heads into its driest and warmest time of the year. This time, it has a drought emergency impacting nearly half of the state’s population and an unprecedentedly extreme risk of intense wildfires, to boot. 

For many in California, and many observing from the outside, 2020 appeared to be as bad as it could get, with a record number of wildfires ripping through all regions of the state, and an extreme heatwave that forced utility provider Pacific Gas & Electric to implement rolling blackouts for its customers as demand for air conditioning skyrocketed.

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Despite efforts to follow up 2020 with enhanced battery storage capacity, building resiliency through microgrids and adding new renewable generation, a new report from the North American Energy Reliability Corporation shows California has the highest risk of all 50 U.S. states for summer energy emergencies in 2021.

Per the report, the California’s slice of the Western Interconnection is at risk of an energy emergency during periods of “normal peak summer demand” and at “high risk” when demand is widespread across the west. Take that to mean: When there are heatwaves, expect power outages, rolling blackouts or alerts from the utilities to decrease electricity usage.

California has already experienced two heatwaves that took much of the state into triple digits. The California Independent System Operator, the organization that controls the electricity grid, issued flex alerts for both, which pleaded with customers to reduce usage during what they expected would be peak hours.

The state has worked to make its grid more resilient since 2020. The state started the summer with 675 MW of additional battery storage, with another 825 MW of new battery storage to be added over the summer. However, much of the added generation capacity has come in the form of photovoltaic solar. Until battery storage is robust enough to take much of the solar power into the evening, PV solar power will have a difficult time making an impact during the early-to-late evening hours when demand typically peaks.

Though not explicitly laid out in the report, drought and fire risk play significant roles in this risk of energy emergencies. California has already dealt with a handful of major fires this season, one of which was at the Oregon border, which nearly knocked out the state’s power grid. This is something not predicted in the report although it is very real for Californians.

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