Hallmarks of a great Californian summer!
Barbeques, Blackouts, and Blazing Fires!
A fast-moving wildfire is burning uncontrollably through southern Oregon. So far, it has taken out three electrical lines so critical to the stability of grids in the western U.S. that California warned of rolling blackouts and Nevada has faced a power emergency. The Bootleg Fire has become the largest in the U.S. this year, crippled a key transmission system known as the California Oregon Intertie, one of only a handful of interstate connections in California.
The amount of electricity this interconnection moves is massive, more than is needed to power even a city the size of San Francisco.
Authorities at the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) said that the state had lost access to 5,500 megawatts of power due to the fire’s impacts on the grid interconnection between California and Oregon. Last year a loss of just 248 megawatts at a plant in the Central Valley prompted an emergency.
Generally, rolling blackouts are typically used only in these emergency cases, and are designed to prevent a complete collapse of the state’s power system, signaling that the state’s operating reserves have fallen below 1.5 percent. PG&E divides their service area into a number of blocks. When an energy crisis reaches a Stage 3 emergency, California ISO notifies local electric suppliers that there will be a load reduction on the statewide system, and these local suppliers then implement a system of rotating power outages.
With 12 percent of the total U.S. population, and 33 million people, when California buys more electricity, the amount of electricity available within the states exporting it decreases- making the effects of crisis felt in all western states. The rapid growth of cities like Las Vegas and Phoenix has also contributed to the mushrooming energy crisis, well before a wildfire burned through one of our state’s few major interconnections.
Here in Northern California we have a uniquely horrible addition to the crisis in the form of PG&E. The state utility, which just last month emerged from bankruptcy and pleaded guilty to 84 counts of manslaughter for a series of destructive wildfires in 2015, 2017 and 2018, is back at it again this wildfire season.
Since leaving bankruptcy, PG&E has been linked to several fires. It paid $43 million to local governments to cover costs of the 2019 Kincade Fire in Sonoma County and last year’s fatal Zogg Fire in Shasta County, and is likely facing another $600 million in damage payments to homeowners and others. As if that weren’t enough, last week, on July 13th, the Dixie Fire sparked not far from where the 2018 Camp Fire began. In a report from PG&E, at around 7 a.m. last Tuesday, PG&E’s outage system showed an outage in the same area in which the Dixie Fire started. The responding PG&E troubleman was unable to reach the location until that evening, and when the troubleman arrived, he observed a fire on the ground nearby as well as several fuses blown and a tree leaning into a conductor. As of Thursday morning the fire had burned 103,910 acres and was 17 percent contained, according to Cal Fire.
So what can we expect this summer in California?
Well, bad air, rolling blackouts, and the sudden awareness of the importance of backup power. Yet it seems likely that we will keep fighting fire with fire; utilities, data centers, and co-operatives will burn more diesel to keep their businesses and themselves online–heating the planet with emissions–in the voracious cycle of accelerating climate change.
Microgrids have already proven a stable solution in last year’s rolling blackouts, delivering flexible load and providing backup electricity, as extreme heat left the state short on power. Multiple microgrids around the state provided hundreds of kilowatt hours of much-needed power, as well as a smaller series of home microgrids operated by OhmConnect. The home microgrid network provided 220 MWh to the grid as a generating resource during the blackout on August 15th of last year, and the company paid homeowners $300,000 on that day alone, a portion of money company made providing resources to the grid.
As this problem grows, we will need more community based green microgrid storage–and who else to do it best but us at ElectricFish.
This is the seventh post in a recurring series of ElectricFish insights around the transition to a modern electricity infrastructure. Stay tuned for our upcoming posts!