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Francis Menton On California’s Blackouts

August 17, 2020

By Paul Homewood



There are many articles on the Californian rolling blackouts, but this one goes to the heart:


You may have read in the past few days that residents of California have been experiencing rolling power blackouts. This has occurred in the middle of a strong heat wave, meaning that large numbers of people have had their air conditioning, light, refrigeration, and everything else dependent on electricity, go out just when they are most needed. The blackouts have not been the result of technical failures of the grid, but rather have been intentionally imposed by the electricity system operator (known as CAISO — California Independent System Operator) via the various local utilities.

So what has caused these blackouts? The official explanation is that the heat wave is the cause. It has just gotten so unusually hot that demand has risen beyond the capacity of the system. Many articles in the media reporting on the situation go further to associate the unusual heat with “climate change.”

This explanation is complete BS. Yes, there is a strong heat wave going on, at least in certain areas of the state, but it is not unusual in historical context. In fact what is occurring is that California has begun to face the consequences of replacing reliable fossil fuel and nuclear powered electricity with the intermittent renewables, wind and solar. In the evening, approximately 7 to 9 PM, when the sun has set and the heat lingers, and when the demand for electricity for air conditioning reaches a peak, the intermittent wind and solar sources have been producing just about nothing. With insufficient fossil fuel backup, there is not enough power to meet the demand.

In short, we are witnessing the results of almost unbelievable incompetence by the authorities in California. As usual, the equally incompetent and corrupt media are completely giving the authorities a pass in the name of supposedly addressing “climate change.”

So with temperatures at or above the current levels a regularly recurring phenomenon, why haven’t the authorities planned accordingly and put in place resources to meet the demand? The answer is that under a law enacted in 2018, California has embarked on a crazed program to generate 50% of its electricity from “renewable” sources by 2025, 60% by 2030, and 100% by 2045. Both before and after enactment of that law, California has been ambitiously expanding its capacity for wind and solar generation of electricity.

To put this in some context, the peak electricity demand that has been causing California’s problems during the current heat wave is in the range of 42 – 46 GW. (Today’s peak demand was about 44 GW.) To meet this demand, you could put in place a system of fossil fuel and nuclear plants with a capacity of around 55 GW, which would give you a comfortable cushion to deal with whatever maintenance issues or mishaps might arise.

According to the U.S. government’s Energy Information Agency, California actually has installed electricity generation capacity of almost 76 GW. That sounds like wildly more than you would ever need. But the problem is that of the 76 GW of capacity, some 27 GW is solar, and 6 GW is wind. In August the solar goes into steep decline around 4 PM and ends completely around 7 PM. The wind more or less doesn’t blow at all during heat waves. And thus you get a profile of electricity generation from the renewable sources that looks like this.

Full article here.


The chart referred to is this:




It is self evident that it is absolutely impossible to manage a grid properly, if renewables account for a large proportion of capacity. Incidentally, solar accounts makes up about 80% of the renewables chunk.


At that crucial early evening period yesterday, natural gas was running at around 24 GW, about half of total demand. Imports and nuclear added another 6 GW and 2 GW respectively.


Yet California’s only nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, is closing in 2025, thanks to political pressure. And how much longer can California rely on other states sending surplus power to the State. given they too may have to be more reliant on renewables?

The author, Francis Menton reckons that California only currently has 43 GW of capacity excluding wind and solar, leaving 41 GW after Diablo goes. This is maximum nameplate capacity. In reality, of course, it is not feasible to expect 100% efficiency, that number can probably be de-rated to 35 GW.

In the last ten years, gas and nuclear capacity has shrunk by 5 GW, which has made all the difference in this latest episode. California needs to quickly start building at least 10 GW of new gas-fired capacity, and ensure that no more existing capacity shuts because of the financial impact of low utilisation.

  1. A C Osborn permalink
    August 17, 2020 6:06 pm

    Reality strikes again.

    • Broadlands permalink
      August 17, 2020 6:12 pm

      Yes. But sadly, very few are paying attention. ” thanks to political pressure.” Climate change propaganda?

    • Mad Mike permalink
      August 18, 2020 7:31 pm

      Meanwhile back in the UK the National Grid has been paying vast amounts to balance the grid due to lack of demand. The % increase in the use of renewables during this lockdown period was probably due to the lack of overall demand potentially triggering even higher constraint payments if they asked renewables to switch off it seems. So renewables can keep adding to overall capacity knowing that even if not needed they will still be earning bucketloads of dosh. Its not a normal market place where you bring your wares to the market place and get paid if they sell and get nothing if they don’t.

      • Mad Mike permalink
        August 18, 2020 10:45 pm

        Sorry read wrong. Its not a normal market place where you bring your wares to market and get paid if they sell and get paid more if they don’t

  2. Tonyb permalink
    August 17, 2020 6:34 pm

    For heavens sake, are you claiming that we don’t get any solar power at night? Next you will be claiming the wind turbnes don’t work when the wind stops blowing.

    The weather gods will look after us. You just need to believe and make sacrifices of very large amounts of money

    • August 18, 2020 9:13 am

      California thinks it’s leading the way. Let their climate ideologists run wild for a few more years and we can all survey the wreckage, turn round and say: is this what you wanted, folks?

  3. MrGrimNasty permalink
    August 17, 2020 6:50 pm

    On Countryfile last Sunday they did a ‘test’ of a ‘toy’ battery tractor which completely failed to address the issue of being able to work hard in the field all day like its diesel cousin. They covered none of the technicalities like charge time or battery capacity. After doing one length of a field where it was like a flea in the ocean he chirpily said oh still got 75% charge left!

    Anyway it turns out after my own research that after a 5.5 hour charge (requiring a 16A plug not 13A as stated on CF) it will work for a claimed 3 hours flat out (although my calcs. suggest half that) or 5 hours of light work! In essence completely useless on a working farm. Might be OK for a garden center or golf club – but why push it in a farm context?

    But what really peaked my interest was that Adam the farmer threw in oh we get 38,000kW from the solar PV on our cowshed – the usual illiterate nonsense. Turns out:

    He has a 50kW system so 38,000kWh a year would be what he meant – a capacity factor of 8.7% at his location. Awful. But it will make him £ooodles it seems, at the cost of everyone else.

    • Harry Passfield permalink
      August 17, 2020 7:24 pm

      I saw that, MrGN. Oi did larf! The 38Mw from solar made that laugh a guffaw! Add to the fact that Adam could hardly fit on the seat of the electric tractor (nicely positioned in front of the behemoth of a tracked diesel tractor) and that the idiot proposing it as a solution (Richard someone???) explained that it would easily recharge on a 13A socket overnight, made me laugh out loud – through the tears of rage that someone like Adam could be so gullible.

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        August 17, 2020 7:47 pm

        It was comedy gold, a bit like some of my English mashing – ‘peaked’ oh dear! Where’s the edit button when you need one.

      • Phillip Bratby permalink
        August 17, 2020 7:51 pm

        I saw it too and laughed at the fact he did not know his power from his energy. Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) is one of your typical know-nothing green nutters who is into EVs etc and hates “climate change deniers”. I remember him unsuccessfully trying to get his local community to build their own wind turbine and solar farm.

      • Tonyb permalink
        August 17, 2020 8:05 pm

        I don’t watch country file in case Chris Packham comes on. Mind you if he does inadvertently appear on my tv it takes 1.2 seconds to locate the remote and turn him off, fully .3 of a second faster than with an appearance by Jeremy corbyn

      • Ben Vorlich permalink
        August 17, 2020 10:10 pm

        Tonyb My pet hate is Tom Heap

    • Devoncamel permalink
      August 17, 2020 10:48 pm

      What was the cost of the installation? I bet it’s several multiples of the claimed annual electricity savings.

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        August 18, 2020 9:52 am

        I don’t know when he installed it but current costs are suggested around £30K for a 50kW system. He seems to get a good Feed In Tariff rate, so even if he paid more, he’s quids in, at our expense.

        Not many people can afford £30K to rob money from the rest of society under the false pretense of being environmentally friendly.

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        August 18, 2020 10:12 am

        Assuming he had enough battery storage to make 100% use of the solar electricity generated on his farm directly (not realistic, but….), the full time equivalent supply of his system (capacity factor 8.7% and storage efficiency loss 10%) would be just under 4kW – from a 50kW array!

    • yonason permalink
      August 18, 2020 11:48 am

      I don’t know what you’re going on about. A solution exists.

      Better image here×900

      • MrGrimNasty permalink
        August 18, 2020 12:02 pm

        Yes battery vehicles are very poor at hard work (hence the issues with electric planes/ferries/tankers etc.)

        On a farm there is often a small window when the crop is dry and the weather suitable for ploughing/harvesting etc. – farmers often harvest all through the night on lights – taking 5 hours out to recharge makes a battery tractor/combine useless at the very moment it is actually required.

      • yonason permalink
        August 18, 2020 9:11 pm


        “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field.” – Dwight D. Eisenhower

  4. Phillip Bratby permalink
    August 17, 2020 7:41 pm

    “almost unbelievably incompetence”. Anybody observing politicians and their renewable energy policies over the last 10 years or so, does not find the incompetence at all unbelievable.

  5. Jackington permalink
    August 17, 2020 9:00 pm

    The lack of leccy in Cal must be terribly annoying for the Sussexes. They would not have this problem in Frogmore Cottage (yet).

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      August 17, 2020 9:19 pm

      Perhaps they have a generator? Or plug in to Oprah’s? I did see that apparently their new place has running cost that include something like a $25,000p.a. natural gas bill. I don’t think it’s all for heating the pool. You do wonder if they discussed its climate footprint prior to purchase though. Not a single solar panel on the roof either.

      Then there’s the risk of a mudslide… due to climate change, of course.

      • Bertie permalink
        August 18, 2020 5:28 pm

        A lot of trees around as well. I think they have the occasional forest fire in California.
        Wouldn’t that be awful?

  6. rwf1 permalink
    August 17, 2020 9:36 pm

    Diablo Canyon plant is in perfect shape to operate another 50 to 100 years, but we are closing it anyway…….

  7. Iggie permalink
    August 17, 2020 9:48 pm

    They’re now claiming that Death Valley, Cal has had its highest temp on record – as soon as they can get rid of that pesky 1913 record.

  8. Mikehig permalink
    August 17, 2020 9:58 pm

    And we are heading down the same path…….
    All but one of our nukes will close down in the next few years and the last coal plants will go even sooner.
    In the same timeframe we will be pushed to electric everything (eg no new gas boilers after 2025), leading to increased demand.
    Will our govt learn the lessons from California’s experience or will they swallow the green propaganda? On their form to date, the second is a racing cert.

    • Bertie permalink
      August 18, 2020 5:29 pm

      Definitely if you elect Biden.

  9. I_am_not_a_robot permalink
    August 17, 2020 11:38 pm

    California is the precursor of where green totalitarians are incrementally pushing the rest of the West and this is typical:

    ‘Many California residents have purchased expensive generators to keep refrigerators and freezers on, but generators rely mostly on natural gas. Democrats in the California Legislature want to ban natural gas to homes and require only electric appliances. So California residents won’t even be able to keep our power on in this “new normal”’ (California Globe August 15, 2020).

    • Gerry, England permalink
      August 18, 2020 9:35 am

      Hopefully those generators will convert to running on diesel.

  10. Graeme No.3 permalink
    August 17, 2020 11:55 pm

    It is all based on 2 premises:
    Politicians want to appear “progressive” but the more stupid believe the renewables crap.

    And those who aren’t quite that stupid assume they won’t be around when the scam collapses.

    As in South Australia where those who were ‘in charge’ are now overseas or keeping a very low profile. Except for one still hanging around in Opposition but his nickname is Silly Koot.

  11. August 18, 2020 1:39 am

    Fairly breathtaking: Governor Newsom, who is one of the most green-progressive Democrats in the US, has said this:

    California Gov. Gavin Newsom: Time to ‘Sober Up’ About Green Energy’s Flaws (17 Aug)

    California Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday that the state had to “sober up” about the fact that renewable energy sources had failed to provide enough power for the state at peak demand, and needed “backup” and “insurance” from other sources.

    That is an epic Olympic-level backflip, if we ever get to have Olympics anymore in the face of the Chinese bat crud.

    • August 18, 2020 9:22 am

      If solar power isn’t good enough under a hot summer sun, what use is it?

  12. JCalvertN permalink
    August 18, 2020 2:03 am

    I’m surprised they didn’t blame it on the potential for transmission lines causing wildfires.

  13. Gamecock permalink
    August 18, 2020 2:35 am

    ‘Many articles in the media reporting on the situation go further to associate the unusual heat with “climate change.”’

    None of which define what they mean by ‘climate change.’

    Must be a mysterious force of some sort. Only understood by climate change scientists.

  14. Lez permalink
    August 18, 2020 7:01 am

    I wonder how Tesla car sales are doing out there.

    • It doesn't add up... permalink
      August 18, 2020 3:36 pm

      Brilliantly, with their V2G options. /sarc

  15. August 18, 2020 8:04 am

    Thank you for this very interesting analysis. Feel sad for my old college days home but glad i’m not there in these looney tunes days.

  16. Romeo R. permalink
    August 18, 2020 6:04 pm

    I believe California used to purchase electricity from Washington and Oregon that was produced on the many dams that were built across the Columbia and Snake Rivers. I remember growing up in the 80’s and 90’s hearing how the adults would always complain about how California was stealing all of our resources. (I grew up in Vancouver, WA.)
    I think that in one of California’s green mandates, they proposed to stop buying power from those states because they deemed Hydro power as non-green energy. Not sure if that is the case but a majority of our energy production went to California. However, now even Washington and Oregon are clamoring over each other to join the idiocy of California and devolve into using wind and solar for power generation. They keep trying to destroy the dams and free the rivers. I’m sure that eventually they will win out…Sadly, it is what we are becoming.

  17. yonason permalink
    August 19, 2020 9:00 am

    It didn’t have to be this way.

    But Californians kept voting for Democrats, and now the arugula is hitting the fan. They have no one to blame but themselves.

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