The California Rolling Blackouts

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If you are in California an in an affected zone – I hope you and yours are healthy and well. 2020 really is a tough year.

Wildfires paired with rolling blackouts being reinstated for the first time in decades and aggressive weather patterns are making the grid and resilience a thing of the past. The grid is beginning to show its age – especially in California.

The rolling blackouts were claimed to have been both for power safety, but also because of capacity based issues. This claim that capacity was the issue was being challenged by “experts” that monitor and watch the grid – claiming that capacity wasn’t the issue but a grid management issue that caused the need for the outages.

Regardless most of the reporting around the outages were mostly stating large generic numbers on available capacity as opposed to deep dives into what power was actually accessible to the utility during the heat waves that occurred.

Was capacity an issue?

Well we can’t answer that directly as getting access to PG&E data is another nightmare in it of itself – but we can provide insight in why both sides make sense.

A Political Focused Rolling Outage Strategy

Now this side is full of the people who believe capacity issues weren’t a concern at all and that there was more than enough to keep operating. If this situation is true this may have been a joint strategy to push back on the aggressive solar & storage mandates that have been set forward by the state.

Infrastructure is expensive and utilities naturally want to save that capital for as long as possible. The heat waves and highly aggressive climate in CA might have been the perfect storm where enough stress was on the grid to run an outage.

We don’t believe this was the case, but it provides an argument as to why – if the utility had enough capacity – the rolling blackouts were put in place.

Infrastructure Can’t Take Advantage of DERs Today

The positive news out of all this is that organizations are now pushing hard to deploy more solar & storage across the state. Much like the Grid Alternatives and Sunrun partnership.

Now with many homes having solar it makes grid energy management significantly harder. DERMs providers like Autogrid are attempting to simplify this, but naturally a grid isn’t easy to operate especially across millions of homes. California holding the largest saturation of solar on rooftops in the states makes this even more complex for C-ISO utilities.

What we believe happened is a mix of energy management complexity with these DERs paired with high heat on the grid forced the utility and the C-ISO to make the tough decision to move to rolling blackouts to ensure no major infrastructure damage occurred.

Regardless, this shows that in the years to come – as we transition to a fully renewable grid – resilience is going to be a challenge for the grid to deal with.

About The Author

Swarnav S Pujari

Swarnav S Pujari

CEO @ TouchLight | Founder of The Impact

Swarnav is the CEO of TouchLight, a utility backed energy company that develops software for nanogrids that accelerates solar payback periods by 1 – 3 years. He currently leads partnerships and product efforts within the company.

Concurrently, Swarnav founded The Impact to help provide open source tools, research and analysis to people passionate about tackling climate change. He also volunteers time with ClimateLink hosting regional meetups and was appointed the Chairman for the Town of Yorktown’s CSC Task Force, where he helps with legislation and sustainability efforts within the town.

Swarnav has a background in building physical products and has been working in the energy space for about 8 years. He also holds 2 patents and is active in the tech, energy and real estate industries.

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