Why Renewables Did Not Cause California’s Rolling Blackouts
During the week of August 15, California experienced a record-breaking heatwave, spiking energy demand as residents turned up their air conditioning for relief from the scorching temperatures. As the need for electricity intensified, so did the stress on California’s electrical grid, causing the state’s energy grid operator — California Independent System Operator (CAISO) — to call for rolling blackouts in fear of simply not being able to meet the increased demand. The August rolling blackouts were the first supply-related power outage of this magnitude since the 2001 energy crisis. Questions and theories rightfully arose as to what led to this unprecedented stress on the Golden State’s energy grid.
One of the immediate victims of political and industry finger-pointing was California’s increasing dependence on renewable energy. But, as follow-up investigations of the blackouts are showing, renewable energy is not inherently unreliable or the central issue that led to California’s energy supply shortages. Rather, the state’s current transitional energy infrastructure, intricate market forces, and miscommunications between power supply stakeholders converged to exacerbate electrical supply shortages brought on by record heat.
What Caused the Blackouts?
In a statement issued to California Governor Gavin Newsom, the heads of California’s top energy agencies plainly stated that the dependability of renewable energy was not to blame for the blackouts. In CAISO’s Root Cause Analysis report, three broad causes are linked to the August blackouts:
(1) a record-breaking climate-change-induced heatwave that caused an upsurge in electricity demand,
(2) California’s clean energy goals have outpaced construction and energy storage, and
(3) incorrect day-ahead energy market predictions which exacerbated shortened supply conditions.
Climate Change and Energy Supplies
Regional heat waves, similar to the one in August, are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change. This trend, caused by the burning of fossil fuels for energy, highlights the need for clean energy to reduce emissions and worsening heat conditions. California, along with 10 other states, has taken the important step of committing to 100% fossil-fuel-free energy by or before 2050. But construction of renewable energy infrastructure, such as wind and solar farms, and energy storage facilities still lags….