Home Environment & Climate News California’s Power Struggles Continue as Wildfires Reduce Solar Power Output

California’s Power Struggles Continue as Wildfires Reduce Solar Power Output

Smoke from California’s multiple wildfires darkened the skies in August and September, reducing the amount of electricity generated by solar cells across the state.

Just after noon on September 10, normally a peak time for solar power generation in California, the California Independent System Operator (CISO), the agency charged with managing the state’s electric power flows, reported statewide solar generation was approximately 33 percent below the levels normally generated at that time of day.

Blackouts Before Smoke Outs

This drop in power comes just weeks after CISO was forced to impose rolling blackouts on businesses and residents as electricity demand during a heatwave exceeded supply.

News reports at the time attributed the states repeated power shortage to its embrace of renewable energy sources and exclusion of historically reliable and inexpensive fossil-fuel-generated electricity.

“California’s bet on renewables and shunning of natural gas and nuclear power, is directly responsible for the state’s blackouts and high electricity prices,” stated an article in the California Globe.

As reported in Breitbart, Gov. Gavin Newsom admitted California’s green power mandates and climate programs were responsible for the state’s episodic power failures.

“California Gov. Gavin Newsom said [on August 17] 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,” Breitbart wrote. According to Breitbart, Newsome went on to admit the critical reason the state lacked power was its overreliance on wind and solar power, saying, “We failed to predict and plan these shortages.”

Wildfires Add to Power Woes

The wildfires and the smoke from them are adding to California’s electric power shortfall, with hundreds of structures, including many with roof-top solar power systems, being incinerated in the fires, and the smoke from the fires limiting the amount of sunlight reaching the large solar arrays at industrial solar facilities in the Western part of the state.

“We are seeing reductions to behind-the-meter and large-scale solar throughout the state,” Anne Gonzales, senior public information officer for CISO, said in a statement.

Solar power generation is hampered during the wildfires, and those effects will linger even after the wildfires are extinguished, Michael Bolen, project manager for solar generation at the Electric Power Research Institute told E&E News.

“With the wildfires that are burning in California and the Pacific Northwest, it’s very clear that with the smoke that’s in the air, there is a reduction in the amount of light that can reach solar panels,” Bolen said. “All those ash [and] smoke particles have to settle somewhere [and] if they land on the PV modules, then they could block light from entering the modules.”

Power Shortages Highlight Fossil Fuel Virtues

The persistent shortfalls in power from renewable sources in California, now exacerbated by the impact of the wildfires on solar power generation, have forced the state to import large amounts of electric power from outside the state, often generated by fossil fuels, and to allow the continued use of fossil fuels to generate electricity in the state.

On June 11, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) approved the use of up to 450 megawatts of diesel generators to fill the gaps when renewable power sources failed to supply sufficient energy. Unfortunately for Californians, the power shortfalls during California’s August heatwave exceeded 1,000 megawatts, more than double the allowed diesel backup.

The wildfire- and smoke-induced decline in solar power generation has forced California to generate electricity using natural gas generators. However, the diesel and natural gas generators undermine California’s increasingly stringent restrictions on carbon dioxide emissions from power generation.

‘Natural Gas will be Unavoidable’

At a recent electric power leadership conference hosted on-line by the Edison Electric Institute (EEI), Ernest Moniz, Ph.D., the secretary of the Department of Energy during Barack Obama’s presidency, said California politicians and regulators were deluding themselves if they believed the state could transition to renewable power as quickly as its laws are demanding without reliable energy sources as backup.

Describing Moniz’s discussion at EEI’s conference, E&E News wrote, “Backing solar and wind up with natural gas will be unavoidable until new technologies are developed for longer-lasting batteries, energy from hydrogen and, eventually, technologies that clear carbon dioxide from the air itself, according to Moniz.

“‘Right now there is a shortage of [generating] capacity,’ Moniz said, citing ‘tremendous challenges’ with addressing the variability of renewable power on both hour-to-hour time scales and wider shifts in seasonal demand,” wrote E&E News.


H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. (hsburnett@heartland.org) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.

H. Sterling Burnett
H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D. is a Heartland senior fellow on environmental policy and the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.



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