Senior decision-makers come together to connect around strategies and business trends affecting utilities.


Thelma and Louise: Are Utilities Driving Energy Production Off a Cliff?

image credit: Moviestore Collection Ltd / Alamy Stock Photo
David  Walter's picture
President , Level 3 Solar

I am the author of a # 1 best-selling book, entrepreneur contributor, and owner of a solar company, Level 3 Solar, that helps homeowners eliminate their electric bills. Our local certified solar...

  • Member since 2023
  • 25 items added with 3,527 views
  • Jan 27, 2023

Are utilities driving energy production over a cliff, just like Thelma and Louise in the popular movie? With the increasing push for net-zero carbon emissions and the phasing out of fossil fuel-powered energy sources, many utilities are scrambling to find alternative energy sources to keep up with demand. But in the rush to completely end our reliance on fossil fuels putting our energy production at risk, just like Thelma and Louise's reckless behavior led to their downfall? 

As we've seen in California, shutting down coal and natural gas plants without sufficient alternative energy sources in place can lead to disastrous consequences. With the state's mandate for all new light-duty passenger vehicles to be zero-emission vehicles by 2035, the California grid was pushed to its limits and had to halt the shutdown of its last fossil fuel plant. This near miss serves as a cautionary tale for other utilities that may be blindly following the push for net-zero carbon emissions without fully considering the potential consequences. 

The truth is, while solar and wind energy is important and necessary components of a sustainable energy mix, they alone cannot produce the same amount of energy as fossil fuels. This means that as utilities continue to phase out coal and natural gas plants, they risk driving energy production over a cliff and leaving their customers in the dark. 

Many utilities are already barely able to produce enough energy to meet demand and shutting down fossil fuel plants without sufficient alternative energy sources in place will only exacerbate this problem. This is not to say that we should not strive for a cleaner energy future, but rather that we must approach this transition with caution and consider the potential consequences. 

It's important for utilities to take a holistic approach to energy production and not rely solely on one source of energy. A diverse energy mix that includes both renewable and non-renewable energy sources can ensure a more reliable and sustainable energy future. Rooftop solar installation should be considered as one of these alternative sources. Furthermore, instead of shutting down fossil fuel plants completely, they can be converted to use cleaner fuels. 

In conclusion, as we strive for a cleaner energy future, it's important for utilities to consider the potential consequences of phasing out fossil fuels too quickly. A holistic approach to energy production that includes a diverse mix of energy sources, including rooftop solar installation, can ensure a more reliable and sustainable energy future. By not relying solely on one source of energy, utilities can avoid driving our energy production off a cliff, like Thelma and Louise in the popular movie. 

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Jan 27, 2023

Great post - this is a great point

" It's important for utilities to take a holistic approach to energy production and not rely solely on one source of energy. A diverse energy mix that includes both renewable and non-renewable energy sources can ensure a more reliable and sustainable energy future." - 

This change is a huge one for the industry, there are a lot of plates to balance and consider during the transition.  Plus, our technology is not 100% there yet. 

It is a fun time, though - probably the biggest change this industry has seen since the beginning days of the Grid. 

Let's all grab some popcorn as I am sure this transition will be fun to watch. 

I am excited to see the final outcome - or the end of the movie so to speak.  What will things look like in 2050? 

David  Walter's picture
David Walter on Jan 27, 2023

Audra, I agree one hundred percent!  Thanks for posting your thought, I am not sure it will be fun to watch.  Unless you have rooftop solar installed and a home battery. What do you think?

Tony Paradiso's picture
Tony Paradiso on Jan 30, 2023


Couldn't agree more. I posted a video on the same issue not long ago. I'm currently involved in the community solar market but I don't necessarily agree that solar is the best long-term solution. It has its place but in terms of utility-scale there may be better options. We also need to stop putting the cart before the horse and address the bottlenecks to attaching more distributed resources. We need to look no further than PJM's interconnection queue to understand the problem. If you're interested here's the link to my video.



Richard McCann's picture
Richard McCann on Jan 30, 2023

California likely can get to 90% renewables without too much trauma. There's likely enough renewable gas to cover the remaining 10% if it's not diverted to residential/commercial uses. We can end the use of fossil fuels in our electric system within the next decade if we don't throw up barriers to distributed energy--no waiting around for transmission lines. PG&E has a microgrid near Yosemite that ran on renewables more than 99% of the time last year. It's already been done.

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Jan 31, 2023

US electricity production is growing slowly despite the fact that capacity factors on coal have fallen from 60% in 2014 to around 49% last year, even though coal capacity has declined by 1/3rd. Combined Cycle gas utilisation is down slightly to around 55% consequently the suggestion that US is closing fossil fuel capacity too fast is contradicted by the facts.

The US currently uses 4,200TWh/y of electricity, roughly 12.6 MWh/person. The EU which is more industrialized, uses 5.5 MWh per person so if the US got its energy efficiency act together and got consumption down to say 10 MWh per person over the next 13 years, while the population grows to 380m then demand would actually fall to 3,800 TWh. 100m EVs would only add about 300-350 TWh and another 100m heatpumps a similar figure so total consumption would be 4,500 TWh. Hydro and nuclear supply over 1,000 TWh per year and can be expected to maintain close to that volume for the next 10-15 years so a 95% zero carbon electricity grid might be expected to provide 3,300 TWh from non-hydro renewables. This year Germany is on track to produce 250 TWh from such renewables in 350,000 square km or 710 MWh/square km. The lower 48 covers 8,100 square km so on the same ratio non hydro renewables should be able to provide 5,700 TWh, far more than the required 3,300 TWh. However, the US should do even better, because the technology deployed over the next 15 years will be far more productive than the existing stock in Germany. For example the average wind turbine in Germany produces about 3.3 GWh/y. In the US over the next 15 years new turbines will average 15-25 GWh/y. In Germany solar averages 1GWh/MW, in the US utility solar averages 1.9 GWh/MW. The US also has more than six times the open space per person  and about twice as much sunny roof space for rooftop solar. Net result is that the US could produce 5-10 times its entire energy demand from wind and solar supported by hydro, nuclear, geothermal, biomass etc

Rodmon KLIEWER's picture
Rodmon KLIEWER on Feb 6, 2023

I think these data are useful for giving us perspective for the typical situation where there is no perturbation or disruption to the system.  I take comfort that our society can achieve the transition in due time.

I see wisdom in David's thinking, however, because it advocates holistic thinking, which is absolutely fundamental to delivering electricity every second of every day throughout all 365 days of the year regardless of weather, hurricanes, tornadoes, cold, freezing rain, snow, and so on.  This continuous delivery of electrons is the fundamental mission of electrical utilities.  

I am reminded of the simple observation of a good friend: "...people die when the electricity goes out."   A holistic approach is both prudent and necessary for the well-being of all. 


needs to give each of pause.

Peter Farley's picture
Peter Farley on Feb 17, 2023

The author made the claim that utilities are not producing enough energy and don't have the capacity to do so. The claim is false.

He might make the claim that the system is not sufficiently robust in the face of natural disasters. That would be valid but fairly easily fixed. He may also claim that the US is not transitioning to zero carbon energy fast enough, a defensible proposition.

But there is absolutely no evidence to support the claim that utilities are not or cannot produce enough energy

David  Walter's picture
Thank David for the Post!
Energy Central contributors share their experience and insights for the benefit of other Members (like you). Please show them your appreciation by leaving a comment, 'liking' this post, or following this Member.
More posts from this member

Get Published - Build a Following

The Energy Central Power Industry Network® is based on one core idea - power industry professionals helping each other and advancing the industry by sharing and learning from each other.

If you have an experience or insight to share or have learned something from a conference or seminar, your peers and colleagues on Energy Central want to hear about it. It's also easy to share a link to an article you've liked or an industry resource that you think would be helpful.

                 Learn more about posting on Energy Central »