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Excuses, Excuses: California 2020 vs. Jevons 1865

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- August 27, 2020

The first great requisite of motive power is, that it shall be wholly at our command, to be exerted when, and where, and in what degree we desire. The wind, for instance, as a direct motive power, is wholly inapplicable to a system of machine labour, for during a calm season the whole business of the country would be thrown out of gear.

– W. S. Jevons, The Coal Question (London: Macmillan, 1865), p. 122.

If only the legion of energy experts and specialists in the colleges and universities, U.S. Department of Energy labs, and environmentalist organizations understood William Stanley Jevons of the 19th century and Vaclav Smil today. If so, they would understand why:

Double Down on Failure?

Surely the proponents of wind and solar to save the world from carbon dioxide (the green greenhouse) are hedging their bets with the current California power crisis. Nope. There is way too much invested intellectual capital in the easy story of energy substitution to intermittent, dilute alternatives.

A rather stunning example of this comes from Professor Dan Kammen, Professor of Energy, UC Berkeley. Quoted in “California grid operator warned of power shortages as state transitioned to clean energy.” East Bay Times, August 17, 2020, he states:

Solar and wind are the cheapest forms of new energy. California’s blackout is due to poor management. It’s not due to a supply problem.

Fossil-fuel backup? Battery backup? Capacity value? One would like to see the math, quick probably turns on saddling natural gas with power generation with a stiff carbon tax.

Ivan Penn in the New York Times blamed the outages on “poor planning” with the last sentence strangely stating:

[Steve] Berberich [of the California Independent System Operator] said the reliance on renewables was not a factor because the state was facing such a huge shortfall in generating capacity. “It’s simply a matter of raw capacity.”

Climate alarmist Andrew Dessler is all in with Penn’s piece, stating, “There is zero reason to conclude from this that we can’t power our society nearly entirely from renewables.” (Calling James Hansen, above)

Then fellow Cal-Berkley professor Severin Borensteign resurrected the Jimmy Carter sacrifice theme in a tweet of August 16, 2020:

If you live in CA, please do lower electricity use M/Tu/W 3pm-9pm to reduce need for rolling blackouts. Biggest impact is from raising AC temperature setting. 78 degrees is pretty comfortable for me if when dressed “pandemic light.”

Glad I’m not in that household. Doom, gloom, and sweats.

The best the guilty could do is to be polite toward their failing worldview. Stated Kavya Balaraman in “‘We’re in a bind’: California Braces for Rolling Outages as Heatwave Continues.” (Utility Dive, August 17, 2020):

The developments over the weekend are not necessarily a surprising result, according to [Seth] Hilton. CAISO has been warning regulators about potential capacity shortfalls through 2023. The CPUC has responded by ordering 3,300 MW of procurement scheduled to begin coming online in 2021. “So there’s been some challenges, as there always is, in ensuring that sufficient resources come online, especially when we’re retiring natural gas resources at a fairly rapid rate,” Hilton added.

And blame the shortages on bureaucratic error. Wrote David Callaway, “Wildfires, blackouts, anger: California shows us the future of climate change,” in USA Today (August 21, 2020):

To add to the chaos, energy regulators bungled the heatwave, running out of electricity just as temperatures soared above 100 degrees last weekend in the late afternoons. In scenes many residents remember from the bad old days of Enron Corp. two decades ago, California’s Independent Systems Operator had to institute rolling blackouts for two nights.

Critics were quick to blame the state’s enthusiasm for renewable energy, citing its use of solar power for the majority of its energy during daytime hours. The solar power wasn’t the issue though. It was poor forecasting on how much energy would be needed to sustain the millions of residential air conditioners fired up in those few hottest hours before darkness.

Excuses, excuses from the smartest guys in the room. Maybe some old fashion free-market entrepreneurship is needed to find the answers that the political-academic establishment cannot seem to grasp.


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  2. Mark Krebs  

    Plenty of excuses to go around. Here is an interesting debate:


    IMO, in combination with clearing excess biomass, the solution is energy diversity. And not just for electric generation. Forcing consumers off of alternatives to electric generation just adds more stress to an already dangerously overstressed and grossly overpriced electric grid.


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