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October 21, 2020: What Caused August’s Rolling Blackouts? Experts Say It’s Still Not Totally Clear

What Caused August’s Rolling Black­outs? Experts Say It’s Still Not Totally Clear

What Caused August’s Rolling Black­outs? Experts Say It’s Still Not Totally Clear​what-​​caused-​​augusts-​​rolling-​​blackouts-​​experts-​​say-​​its–still-​​not-​​totally-​​clear

In their ongo­ing inves­ti­ga­tion into what caused California’s rolling black­outs in August, the state’s elec­tri­cal grid oper­a­tor and util­ity reg­u­la­tors have focused pri­mar­ily on struc­tural issues like cli­mate change-​​driven heat and the tran­si­tion to renew­able energy sources.

But two months after the his­toric event, offi­cials still haven’t come up with a defin­i­tive set of answers.

We’re still try­ing to do a lot of work to under­stand the data we have,” Del­phine Hou, direc­tor of reg­u­la­tory affairs for the Cal­i­for­nia Inde­pen­dent Sys­tem Oper­a­tor (CAISO), said dur­ing a pub­lic stakeholder’s call last week.

The rolling black­outs, the state’s first in almost two decades, thrust more than 800,000 Cal­i­for­ni­ans into the dark dur­ing an intense heat­wave on Aug. 14 and 15, when oper­a­tors directed util­i­ties to shut down power to pre­vent the grid from being over­whelmed. But some energy experts say key ques­tions about the sequence of events that led to the black­outs have gone unan­swered or unacknowledged.

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For exam­ple, CAISO’s pub­lic sum­maries — includ­ing a 108-​​page Oct. 6 pre­lim­i­nary analy­sis com­piled jointly with the state’s Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion and Energy Com­mis­sion — makes no men­tion of an out­age that occurred at Ormond Beach Unit 1 in Oxnard, a nat­ural gas plant with a whop­ping 741-​​megawatt gen­er­at­ing capac­ity. The plant went offline for main­te­nance just 8 min­utes before CAISO declared a Stage 3 emer­gency on Aug. 14, notes energy expert Bill Pow­ers, the head of Pow­ers Engi­neer­ing in San Diego. He says the record of that inci­dent is buried in a spread­sheet.

Instead, CAISO’s time­line focuses on a plant in Blythe, a city in River­side County, where an out­age that same after­noon had been resolved for more than 40 min­utes by the time CAISO called for rolling blackouts.

The ISO’s mes­sag­ing in the imme­di­ate wake of these black­outs was non­trans­par­ent and much of it appears to be incor­rect,” Pow­ers said. “Ormond Beach is the ele­phant in the room. Why is that ele­phant invis­i­ble? Why are we talk­ing about Blythe Energy Cen­ter which had noth­ing to do with the blackout?”

There are also lin­ger­ing ques­tions about CAISO’s account­ing of events on Aug. 15, when the liai­son between CAISO and Panoche Energy Cen­ter, a power plant near Fresno, issued what CAISO calls an “erro­neous dispatch.”

That liai­son, known as a sched­ul­ing coor­di­na­tor, told the power plant to ramp down out­put as demand was peak­ing. A CAISO out­age report issued on Sept. 11 omits that PG&E was the sched­ul­ing coor­di­na­tor, and that its per­son­nel made the erro­neous dispatch.

The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle and KQED reported last month on PG&E’s role, which is also left out of the Oct. 6 analysis.

PG&E’s action — which resulted in 248 megawatts of power com­ing off the state’s grid — took place 3 min­utes before CAISO declared a Stage 2 emer­gency, denot­ing it was no longer able to pro­vide expected energy require­ments. The Stage 3 dec­la­ra­tion — sig­nal­ing that shut­offs were immi­nent — fol­lowed 12 min­utes later.

PG&E says the ramp-​​down lasted less than half an hour, and that it cor­rected the error imme­di­ately upon iden­ti­fy­ing it.

PG&E does not know if the error resulted in rotat­ing out­ages,” said com­pany spokesman James Noonan.

The util­ity did not respond to KQED’s ques­tions about whether it took action to pre­vent sim­i­lar inci­dents from hap­pen­ing again, or if any com­pany per­son­nel were disciplined.

Peo­ple make mis­takes. That’s why well-​​run orga­ni­za­tions have checks and bal­ances to dis­cover those mis­takes before they cause harm,” said Steve Weiss­man, a lec­turer at the UC Berke­ley Gold­man School of Pub­lic Policy.

In the past, PG&E has run into prob­lems because it has not tended to main­tain those kinds of qual­ity con­trol processes,” he said. “If PG&E had sys­tems in place to catch those mis­takes, why did they miss this one?”

For the last sev­eral weeks, CAISO has declined KQED’s requests to review record­ings of ver­bal com­mu­ni­ca­tions between PG&E and CAISO, which could shed light on whether CAISO was aware of the error in real time.

In a state­ment, PG&E said the util­ity informed CAISO of the full details of the inci­dent three days later.

PG&E to Remove Most of Its Board, But Plan Still Falls Short of Governor’s Demands

The issue of how quickly CAISO can see — and react to — what the state’s many power resources are pro­duc­ing, mat­ters sig­nif­i­cantly as Cal­i­for­nia tran­si­tions away from fos­sil fuels to more renew­able energy sources, accord­ing to Daniel Kam­men, direc­tor of UC Berkeley’s Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory (RAEL).

We need a sys­tem with bet­ter data feed­back and more real-​​time updates so CAISO can make the right deci­sions,” Kam­men said. “We need to know pre­cisely what’s hap­pen­ing. Tech­nol­ogy makes that very pos­si­ble today.”

While Kam­men hasn’t stud­ied what hap­pened at the Ormond Beach plant, he says the tim­ing of the rolling black­outs looks “com­pletely tied” to that lack of capac­ity. In his view, energy stor­age is crit­i­cal to ensur­ing reli­a­bil­ity dur­ing the grow­ing shift to renewables.

They sim­ply don’t know what resources they have avail­able to them. We’ve had 10 years of plan­ning to try and fix that,” Kam­men added. “That’s CAISO’s job. If they don’t have the capac­ity, they should ask the governor’s office and the [pub­lic util­i­ties com­mis­sion] for what­ever they need to get there.”

CAISO offi­cials have high­lighted prob­lems with the com­plex energy mar­ket it oper­ates. In that mar­ket, much of the state’s power is booked just a day in advance. A prac­tice called “con­ver­gence bid­ding” — which involves trad­ing vir­tual power — is intended to smooth the gap between the day-​​ahead and real-​​time markets.

We were not set up cor­rectly,” Hou said on last week’s call. “So the real-​​time mar­ket had to work extra hard to untan­gle what was set up a day ahead.”

Accord­ing to the Oct. 6 analy­sis of the black­outs, sched­ul­ing coor­di­na­tors “under-​​scheduled” or didn’t line up enough power ahead of time, mean­ing the mar­ket didn’t “reflect the actual need on the sys­tem.” That, in turn, sig­naled that “more [energy] exports were ulti­mately supportable.”

In other words, says for­mer CPUC Pres­i­dent Loretta Lynch, Cal­i­for­nia was export­ing power up until CAISO called for rolling black­outs. “They were serv­ing the energy traders over the Cal­i­for­nia econ­omy,” Lynch said.

CAISO con­tends that the region-​​wide August heat storm made import oppor­tu­ni­ties scarce. On last week’s call, when asked why it did not con­sider cur­tail­ing exports dur­ing the two-​​day black­out, an offi­cial asked for patience.

We need to put into per­spec­tive how the tim­ing of this hap­pened. We started tak­ing action as we unrav­eled these lay­ers,” said Guillermo Bautista Alderete, CAISO’s direc­tor of mar­ket analy­sis and fore­cast­ing. “We have to first ana­lyze what hap­pened. Then under­stand what hap­pened. Then look at our next oppor­tu­nity to effec­tu­ate change.”

In the last week, CAISO has announced the depar­tures of two top exec­u­tives: Vice Pres­i­dent of Oper­a­tions Eric Schmitt and Vice Pres­i­dent of Tech­nol­ogy Petar Ris­tanovic. A CAISO spokesper­son said both men had been con­sid­er­ing retire­ment for some time, and that their deci­sions were unre­lated to this summer’s outages.

In the com­ing weeks, experts will be look­ing for signs of a par­a­digm shift in how the state ensures it can pro­vide reli­able power to Californians.

How do we keep the lights on in a world in which a grow­ing share of gen­er­a­tion capac­ity sup­plies power when the sun is shin­ing and the wind is blow­ing?” asked Frank Wolak, an eco­nom­ics pro­fes­sor at Stan­ford, who chaired CAISO’s Mar­ket Sur­veil­lance Com­mit­tee from 1998–2011.

My climate journey — podcast

My cli­mate jour­ney: Episode #126




Pod­cast avail­able in sev­eral for­mats for down­load: click here.

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Or, if you want to read it:

Today’s guest is Daniel Kam­men, Pro­fes­sor of Energy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berkeley.

In addi­tion to his pro­fes­sor­ship in the energy depart­ment, Dr. Kam­men has par­al­lel appoint­ments in the Gold­man School of Pub­lic Pol­icy and the Depart­ment of Nuclear Engi­neer­ing. He was appointed the first Envi­ron­ment and Cli­mate Part­ner­ship for the Amer­i­cas (ECPA) Fel­low by Sec­re­tary of State Hilary R. Clin­ton in April 2010. He’s the Found­ing Direc­tor of the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory, Co-​​Director of the Berke­ley Insti­tute of the Envi­ron­ment and Direc­tor of the Trans­porta­tion Sus­tain­abil­ity Research Cen­ter. He’s founded or is on the board of over 10 com­pa­nies and has served the state of Cal­i­for­nia and the U.S. fed­eral gov­ern­ment in expert and advi­sory capacities.

We have a long form dis­cus­sion in this episode about Dan’s back­ground, how his per­spec­tive on the prob­lem of cli­mate change has evolved over the years and how he thinks about the prob­lem today. Dan’s per­spec­tive is par­tic­u­larly unique given the diverse back­ground that he brings, which I find super inter­est­ing given the sys­tems nature of the problem.

Enjoy the show!

You can find me on twit­ter @jjacobs22 or @mcjpod and email at info@​myclimatejourney.​co, where I encour­age you to share your feed­back on episodes and sug­ges­tions for future top­ics or guests.

In today’s episode, we cover:

  • Daniel’s back­ground and early aca­d­e­mic career in energy research.

  • How Daniel’s research has been imple­mented out­side of his lab.

  • Ori­gins and his­tory of nuclear energy.

  • The ques­tion of nuclear energy as a solu­tion to cli­mate change.

  • The stigma around nuclear energy and rea­sons for it.

  • Ten­sion between pro­po­nents of nuclear and advo­cates of solar.

  • The pos­si­bil­ity and fea­si­bil­ity of going 100% renew­able energy.

  • The prospects of long-​​term energy storage.

  • The need for more and lower-​​cost storage.

  • The impor­tance of mov­ing cli­mate from the devel­op­ment of sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy into a social movement.

  • Daniel’s thoughts on a price of carbon.

  • The impli­ca­tions of switch­ing from a “dirty” econ­omy to a “clean” one.

  • How clean energy is aligned with the objec­tives of social justice.

  • His rec­om­men­da­tions for the next U.S. Pres­i­dent in address­ing cli­mate change.

Links to top­ics dis­cussed in this episode:

Episode tran­script:

Jason Jacobs: Hey every­one Jason here. Before we get going I just wanted to take a moment to give a quick shout out to the new paid mem­ber­ship option that we recently rolled out. This option is meant for peo­ple that have been get­ting value from the pod­cast and want to enable us to keep pro­duc­ing it in a more sus­tained way. It’s also for peo­ple that want extra stuff such as bonus con­tent, a Slack room that’s vibrant and filled with peo­ple tack­ling cli­mate change from a wide range of back­grounds and per­spec­tives, as well as a host of pro­gram­ming and events that get orga­nized in the Slack room. We also have a vir­tual town hall once a month where you can get a pre­view of what’s to come and pro­vide feed­back and input on our direc­tion. We’ll be adding more mem­ber­ship ben­e­fits over time. If you wanna learn more, just go to the web­site mycli​mate​jour​ney​.co. And if you’re all ready a mem­ber, thank you so much for your sup­port. Enjoy the show.

Hello every­one, this is Jason Jacobs and wel­come to My Cli­mate Jour­ney. This show fol­lows my jour­ney to inter­view a wide range of guests to bet­ter under­stand and make sense of the for­mi­da­ble prob­lem of cli­mate change and try to fig­ure out how peo­ple like you and I can help.

Today’s guest is Daniel Kam­men. Dr. Kam­men is a dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor of energy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Berke­ley, and has par­al­lel appoint­ments in the energy and resources group, the Gold­man School of Pub­lic Pol­icy and the Depart­ment of Nuclear Engi­neer­ing. He was also appointed the first envi­ron­ment and cli­mate part­ner­ship for the Amer­i­cas Fel­low by sec­re­tary of state Hillary Clin­ton in April, 2010. He’s the found­ing direc­tor of the Renew­able and Appro­pri­ate Energy Lab­o­ra­tory, co-​​director of the Berke­ley Insti­tute of the Envi­ron­ment and Direc­tor of the Trans­porta­tion Sus­tain­abil­ity Research Cen­ter. He’s founded or is on the board of over 10 com­pa­nies and [00:02:00] has served the state of Cal­i­for­nia and the U.S. fed­eral gov­ern­ment in expert and advi­sory capacities.

Now his bio goes on and on from there, so I was both very excited and also a lit­tle intim­i­dated about this dis­cus­sion. But Dan is a super guy and we have a long form dis­cus­sion in this episode about Dan’s back­ground, how his per­spec­tive on the prob­lem of cli­mate change has evolved over the years, how he thinks about the prob­lem today, the best path or paths for­ward to help us address the prob­lem. And also some of the issues and bar­ri­ers that are hold­ing us back and what we might do about them. Dan’s per­spec­tive is par­tic­u­larly unique given the diverse back­ground that he brings, which I find super inter­est­ing given the sys­tems nature of the prob­lem. Daniel Kam­men, wel­come to the show.

Daniel Kam­men:  Oh, thanks for hav­ing me on.

Jason Jacobs:  Thanks for being here. I have to say we’ve never spo­ken before, but from the size of your bio and the con­tents of your bio, I am [00:03:00] intim­i­dated to have this discussion.

Daniel Kam­men:  I don’t think so. Aca­d­e­mic bios are designed to be long for rea­sons I don’t under­stand [laughs] so.

Jason Jacobs:  Aca­d­e­mic but you’ve got an inter­est­ing blend because there’s an aca­d­e­mic com­po­nent, there’s a pub­lished author com­po­nent, there’s a pri­vate sec­tor com­po­nent, there’s a gov­ern­ment com­po­nent. And I think those types of dis­cus­sions in those types of back­grounds are immensely inter­est­ing for me given the sys­tems nature of the prob­lems that we’re deal­ing with.

Daniel Kam­men:  No, I agree. I mean, that’s why hav­ing an aca­d­e­mic job is great because it allows you to keep some of the research and inves­tiga­tive threads going through good and bad fund­ing times. But it’s ulti­mately for me the imple­men­ta­tion of cli­mate solu­tions, that is how I kind of define my career. So yeah, bounc­ing back between those dif­fer­ent worlds is really what I like.

Jason Jacobs:  Yeah. No. And I, although I’ve been focused on cli­mate a heck of a lot less long as you, I kind of think sim­i­larly peo­ple say like, so you’re focused on the pod­cast or so you’re focused on the com­mu­nity or you’re focused on invest­ing or so [00:04:00] you’re focused on advis­ing early stage com­pa­nies or things like that. And it’s like, well actu­ally no, I’m focused on fig­ur­ing out how to have the max­i­mum impact on the prob­lem of cli­mate change. And this port­fo­lio of things is con­stantly in flux and evolv­ing as I’m fig­ur­ing out how to grow the impact that I can have in this grow­ing web of peo­ple that are involved in my cli­mate jour­ney com­mu­nity can have on the prob­lem, but I’m not web to any one kind of func­tion­ing or occu­pa­tion or any­thing like that. I’m just web to hav­ing the biggest impact that I can.

Daniel Kam­men:  Get­ting some­thing done. Yeah.

Jason Jacobs:  Yeah. So how would you, I mean, it’s, given the diver­sity of your expe­ri­ence, how would you describe pro­fes­sional you and what you do?

Daniel Kam­men:  So I started out as a physi­cist, I went through under­grad­u­ate and grad­u­ate school on physics, but I hadn’t decided to be a pro­fes­sor. Actu­ally my inter­ests were divided between physics research and becom­ing an astro­naut and being an astro­naut didn’t work out because I failed the vision test when I went off to the NASA test­ing grounds. And so that pushed me towards kind of the research side. And so I [00:05:00] began my aca­d­e­mic career first and physics, but then work­ing on energy prob­lems mainly on the tech­nol­ogy side. So bet­ter longer last­ing lower costs, solar cells, hard­ware to go into energy stor­age sys­tems. But the more you do that, the more that leads you to the astro­naut world, the, we don’t just research it we want to do, right? The joke is that there’s, in Juras­sic Park they said there’s two kinds of kids. Those who wanna grow up to be astronomers, those want to be astro­nauts. And I always like to think that it’s both.

And so the more you work on low car­bon energy tech­nolo­gies, par­tic­u­larly when I started sev­eral decades ago when essen­tially none of them were afford­able. We’re now in a world where all of them are afford­able and that pushes you even more towards under­stand­ing the sys­tems approach. And so in my aca­d­e­mic work here at Uni­ver­sity Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley I have teams work­ing on off-​​grid power for South­east Asia, for East Africa. And I have look­ing at sys­tems inte­gra­tion. And then I have a [00:06:00] whole bunch of post­docs and fel­lows that come through that are really inter­ested in the imple­men­ta­tion. Whether that’s spin­ning out of my lab­o­ra­tory to form a com­pany or to set up a non­profit to do energy and con­flict regions in Africa, or as peo­ple who really want to learn enough tech­ni­cal mate­r­ial so that when they go into com­pa­nies or state or fed­eral office they feel like they’re really on top of the sci­ence and engineering.

And so my lab is really a mix­ture of those things and the projects and oppor­tu­ni­ties we have will range from work­ing with very small off-​​grid com­mu­ni­ties, native Amer­i­can com­mu­ni­ties in the United States, or very small coastal com­mu­ni­ties in Kenya, Nicaragua, all the way up to try­ing to redesign the power sys­tem at the scale of the U.S. or China. And so my physics back­ground has mor­phed into some mix­ture of physics, elec­tri­cal engi­neer­ing, pol­icy and as a result, I prob­a­bly have the most schiz­o­phre­nia fac­ulty posi­tion than any­one I know at Berkeley.

[00:07:00] I’m in the energy and resources group where I’m chair, I’m in the Gold­man School Pol­icy and I’m in the Depart­ment of Nuclear Engi­neer­ing. And I def­i­nitely know I have too many meet­ings as a result, but I wouldn’t want it any other way because I feel like that mix­ture of sci­ence of decar­boniza­tion, energy tech­nol­ogy options, and pol­icy really fits my work at the uni­ver­sity. And when I go into pub­lic ser­vice, I go back and forth between jobs at the state depart­ment, a world bank, Cal­i­for­nia gov­ern­ment. And so that mix really describes where I feel like you can really max­i­mize get­ting things done on. Not just a low car­bon econ­omy, but an increas­ingly one that’s focused on equity and equality.

Jason Jacobs:  So it’s my impres­sion and granted, I cau­tion myself about my impres­sions because in 2003 I took a month before grad school and I went back­pack­ing around Europe and I only had a month to cover way more ground than we could pos­si­bly fit in a month. And so what we would do is we would make a stop in each place. We would go to Barcelona for exam­ple, or Madrid or Lis­bon or places like that. And [00:08:00] as we did, we were just land in one part of the city, we wouldn’t have a plan, we would stay 24 or 48 hours and then we would move to the next. And that would be our impres­sion of the city. But I think about Boston where I live and it’s like, if you hap­pen to overnight in All­ston ver­sus Bea­con Hill ver­sus Kendall Square, you know, ver­sus Har­vard Square or Dorch­ester, [inaudi­ble 00:08:17] or any of these places, you get a very dif­fer­ent impres­sion of the city.

And so that’s kind of been my expe­ri­ence with cli­mate change, right? I’m so broad in that but I get a lit­tle sliver of all these dif­fer­ent things. That was my pre­am­ble. My impres­sion though, is that when it comes to energy there’s like renew­ables and every­thing that’s going on over there with the grid and clean energy tran­si­tion and things like that. And then nuclear of course, is an incred­i­bly pro­lific energy source, but it’s tends to be of like a dif­fer­ent group of peo­ple or dif­fer­ent dis­cus­sion kind of siloed off doing its own thing. Is that your impres­sion as well?

Daniel Kam­men:  I think it was, there’s no ques­tion that nuclear was so-​​called born secret. It came out of war efforts and the early civil­ian reac­tors, the first civil­ian reac­tor [00:09:00] was in ship­ping port Penn­syl­va­nia. These were really spin out of the mil­i­tary indus­trial com­plex, not value judg­ment, but the mil­i­tary indus­trial world. And for decades that was really how peo­ple saw nuclear poten­tially fit­ting in. It was the tech­nol­ogy that was dif­fer­ent because it is both energy dense, but it also comes with some very large risks. But what’s hap­pened in the last decade and a half is that a whole suite of tech­nolo­gies that the U.S. gov­ern­ment, the French gov­ern­ment, the Russ­ian gov­ern­ment, didn’t have the band­width to research, band­width both peo­ple and money have found pri­vate sec­tor back­ers. And whether those end up being things that are use­ful in the safe low cost com­mer­cial world of [trust ROL 00:09:47] energy, or whether there are things that end up being bet­ter for space mis­sions and other fea­tures is some­thing that we’re gonna see.

But most of the high pro­file bil­lion­aires that you hear about these days have made [00:10:00] some pitch into nuclear. So it has pri­va­tized very sim­i­lar to how the space launch world that was only gov­ern­ments for long time. Now has the Elon Musk, the Richard Bran­son, it’s now got a real pri­vate sec­tor fla­vor. And so nuclear is in this point of tran­si­tion but in terms of cli­mate change, what we don’t know yet is will nuclear under­take this tran­si­tion and become a player in the cli­mate change story or whether it will just be com­pet­i­tive our long-​​term future. And I say just, I don’t mean in a bad way but we know that the cli­mate change story will be decided between now and 2050. And whether nuclear becomes a dif­fer­ent player in that com­ing 30 years is some­thing that no one can say.

There are peo­ple who have plans to scale it up but right now the least cost clean energy tech­nolo­gies are not nuclear. They are solar, wind, increas­ing the energy stor­age, geot­her­mal [00:11:00] power and so whether nuclear becomes a part­ner in that low car­bon world is some­thing that we’re gonna see. I believe nuclear will be very impor­tant in the long-​​term after I’m retired and gone. But whether it’s a real player in the cli­mate change story where we have only a few decades left, that’s still a question.

Jason Jacobs:  Why does he get so much back­lash and how much of that back­lash has founded?

Daniel Kam­men:  That’s a hard ques­tion. It gets a lot of back­lash for the obvi­ous rea­sons that we’ve had some spec­tac­u­lar dis­as­ters in the nuclear world. From Cher­nobyl to Three Mile Island to Fukushima, the down­sides are really severe. Whether it’s jus­ti­fied or not is a much more com­pli­cated ques­tion because it very much depends on what’s your per­spec­tive. Many more peo­ple have died and many more ani­mals and ecosys­tems have died from coal than nuclear, but each nuclear acci­dent is so hor­rific that it changes the land­scape for the [00:12:00] tech­nol­ogy going for­ward. And so nuclear’s role is really this com­plex one. Because humans are really bad at under­stand­ing and think­ing about low prob­a­bil­ity, high con­se­quence events. And while coal is like the creep­ing can­cer that eats away at our health, ecosystem’s health, when nuclear has a bad day it’s a doozy. And so I think that’s really the posi­tion that nuclear astrad­dle and it’s why nuclear for decades was a gov­ern­ment only enterprise.

And obvi­ously there were pri­vate com­pa­nies but they were very tied to the gov­ern­ment set up. Now nuclear is try­ing some­thing new and it is a big exper­i­ment. We don’t know whether small mod­u­lar reac­tors or ura­nium tho­rium mixed reac­tors are going to be cost-​​effective and sig­nif­i­cantly safer and cheaper. So they get to play in a world right now where, when you look at the low car­bon future, what solar has done is so [00:13:00] dra­matic. And most of my career as a energy physi­cist has actu­ally been with solar and stor­age. And so when I started grad school solar was the most expen­sive of all the technologies.

Today in 2020 solar in many parts of the world is the cheap­est. I don’t mean with sub­si­dies, I mean just sim­ply you buy the hard­ware, you install it, you buy energy stor­age to go with it. And that is the least cost tech­nol­ogy for many places in many parts of the world. That tran­si­tion it’s just kind of remark­able, it means that solar has gone to scale in a way that some very smart peo­ple were sim­ply dead wrong on decades ago. And so every time I hear some­one say­ing solar is get­ting at the end of its learn­ing or improve­ment curve, I say, don’t count out the tech­nol­ogy that has made the global biggest change over the past decades.

Jason Jacobs:  Is it true that most peo­ple either work on solar or renew­ables or nuclear, [00:14:00] but that you kind of have to pick a side like you work on both, which seems like a rare breed.

Daniel Kam­men:  It gen­er­ally is you’re right. That peo­ple have gen­er­ally picked aside and I would even go fur­ther, that fre­quently I have seen peo­ple who are strongly in the solar camp devot­ing a great deal of effort to attack­ing the nuclear camp and peo­ple in nuclear, I think have gone over­board in attack­ing renew­ables. Whereas the enemy is cli­mate change and the enemy is fos­sil fuels because that econ­omy, how­ever you think about what it got us to today, sim­ply can’t be the energy sys­tem of the future. And so I think you’re right, peo­ple like me that work in both and physi­cists have kind of a nice train­ing to work in both solar and nuclear.

And I always joke that of course, solar is nuclear. It hap­pens to be 93 mil­lion miles away but solar of course is fusion and so I see a nat­ural match between the two. But I think you have to have that kind [00:15:00] of physics and pol­icy kind of love like I have to see them as poten­tially real partners.

Jason Jacobs:  To the peo­ple that advo­cate that 100% renew­ables can get us there and should get us there in any talk of any kind of port­fo­lio that doesn’t just raise their focus on that is a dis­trac­tion that slows our progress. How do you react to that?

Daniel Kam­men:  Well, so I mean, there’s no ques­tion that 100% renew­ables is pos­si­ble. I’ve done a lot of research, my lab works on sce­nar­ios to get the U.S., China, Mex­ico, Kenya, Bangladesh, Morocco to 100% renew­ables. And in many cases where the tech­nol­ogy mix is improv­ing enough, the cli­mate favors that you can do that. It’s also a case that we are not today ready to think about a solar and wind only world, but solar and wind plus stor­age, plus geot­her­mal, plus poten­tially [00:16:00] nuclear. I’m much more bull­ish today on keep­ing the cur­rent nuclear plants oper­at­ing than on pick­ing the win­ner of the emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies. But all the plants we have today and there’s about 420 nuclear plants in oper­a­tion around the world, 100 of them are in the United States, 60 in France, so those two coun­tries alone dom­i­nate who has nuclear.

All those plants have to be retired by the mid cen­tury 2050 reach­ing num­ber when we’ve got to be on the clean econ­omy. And so that means that for nuclear to have a role, it will need to not only replace 420 plants world­wide which the indus­try is not ready for, but expand that share. And that’s why I say that 100% clean energy world we could get there with the clas­sic renew­ables and stor­age alone. It just makes the job of space heat­ing and indus­try and over­ride the of things quite chal­leng­ing. And so for me, not inves­ti­gat­ing a port­fo­lio would be irresponsible.

Jason Jacobs:  How much [00:17:00] is not hav­ing an answer to long dura­tion stor­age hold­ing us back. And how real­is­tic is it that we’ll ever have an answer too long dura­tion i.e sea­sonal and beyond storage?

Daniel Kam­men:  You’re talk­ing about renew­able stor­age, just to make sure ’cause some peo­ple, when you say stor­age and long dura­tion they’re think­ing nuclear.

Jason Jacobs:  Yeah. Inter­mit­tency for renewables.

Daniel Kam­men:  Yeah. So just like I said, don’t sell solar short, don’t sell stor­age short and for many rea­sons it’s the same thing. Solar has this huge ben­e­fit that there’s mul­ti­ple mate­r­ial sci­ence, there’s mul­ti­ple tech­nolo­gies, there’s tra­di­tional crys­tal in, there’s thin film, there’s organic solar cells, there’s quan­tum dots, there’s [pho­to­voltaic 00:17:40]. Some of those are com­mer­cial today, some of those are com­ing. Same thing is true for stor­age. When I used to go and tes­tify to the U.S. [inaudi­ble 00:17:48] 15, 20 years ago around some­thing like air qual­ity and vehi­cle mile per gal­lon for exam­ple. You would get some­one say­ing, well, cars are never gonna get much more effi­cient. We can [00:18:00] maybe have some small increases, but we’re not gonna do much better.

And that’s really, peo­ple have said that about energy stor­age. They said, well, we have lead acid bat­ter­ies, car bat­ter­ies, truck bat­ter­ies. They’re not gonna meet the chal­lenge and every­thing else is too expen­sive. Now we have lithium ion bat­ter­ies for our devices and they are very cost-​​effective. They have some chal­lenges and mate­ri­als and life­times, but stor­age has now diver­si­fied so that there’s lithium ion, nickel metal hydride, liq­uid flow bat­ter­ies. We have mechan­i­cal bat­ter­ies like fly­wheels, we have phys­i­cal bat­tery sys­tems. There are com­pa­nies that now essen­tially move rock uphill or up cranes, and they have stor­age that’s mechan­i­cal. And so stor­age is 10 years behind where solar was in the sense it is improv­ing and it’s diver­sity is its biggest strength.

Jason Jacobs:  And how much of [00:19:00] what we need to achieve 100% renew­ables exist today and if there’s any­thing miss­ing, what’s missing?

Daniel Kam­men:  Well, I would say we have every­thing we need today in the sense that we have suf­fi­cient oppor­tu­ni­ties for expanded solar and wind. And stor­age while it’s not as cheap as we want it to be it has met and exceeded all of the national mile­stones. And so what I would say we need is more and lower cost stor­age. And more and lower costs go together, for every tech­nol­ogy we see these learn­ing or expe­ri­ence curves where the more you build and deploy the cheaper it gets. And so stor­age is there, but we would pay a pre­mium if we built out every­thing overnight. And that’s actu­ally why I am so pleased to see Vice Pres­i­dent Biden’s plan, where he ini­tially was say­ing 2050 was his tar­get year for 100% clean energy. But in the last month he’s up that to say 2035. And that was a very shrewd [00:20:00] choice because it reflects where we are with the cost declines of renew­ables, the cost declines of storage.

And so we’re there in terms of hav­ing the tools, but we want to make clean energy avail­able for all. So a ubiq­ui­tous jus­tice argu­ment needs to go in there. And so for that, we need con­tin­u­ing inno­va­tion. We need the R&D pipeline to be rein­vig­o­rated. We need more dif­fer­ent prod­ucts, tech­nolo­gies, and we need more sys­tems think­ing because in many cases we’re wast­ing so much energy through inef­fi­ciency, through trans­mis­sion sys­tems that lose energy, that we are not liv­ing up to the best of our tech­nolo­gies but we need to make those bet­ter as well. So I would say this is a co-​​evolution that will us there. But if we were charged with you must replace all fos­sil fuel overnight, we could do it, it would just be pro­hib­i­tively expensive.

Jason Jacobs:  And when you take a step back from tech­nol­ogy inno­va­tion, and you just look at the over­all [00:21:00] tran­si­tion. Are there key levers that if this one or hand­ful of things hap­pens, they’ll have an out­size impact more than any other thing, or is it more like there’s tens, hun­dreds, thou­sands of things that need to hap­pen, and they all help push the Boul­der down the moun­tain and we need it all and shouldn’t have favorites.

Daniel Kam­men:  Well, I think we shouldn’t have favorites in the sense that all of these tech­nolo­gies, these low car­bon ones are a ben­e­fit, but there are still some levers there that are crit­i­cally impor­tant. Now that solar and wind have got­ten cheaper than fos­sil fuels for much of the coun­try and much of the world, we’re actu­ally see­ing some­thing that was obvi­ous to econ­o­mist, but what was not obvi­ous to kind of sus­tain­abil­ity thinkers. And that is just by hav­ing a lower cost Gizmo. Here’s a lit­tle off-​​grid solar light, solar panel on the front, LED light on the back and then a lithium ion bat­tery. So here’s an exam­ple of some­thing that needs to get [00:22:00] cheaper, but there are some really crit­i­cal indi­vid­ual things that we should be doing.

The biggest one is that the, the world sub­si­dizes fos­sil fuels to a huge degree. Depend­ing whose math it’s between a half a tril­lion and $5 tril­lion a year, the gov­ern­ments of the world put into sub­si­diz­ing coal oil and gas. And to put that num­ber in per­spec­tive the global renew­able energy indus­try has invested about two and a half tril­lion over the past decade. And yet we now cur­rently sub­si­dize fos­sil fuels by about that same amount each year. So get­ting rid of fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies would be the num­ber one thing on the agenda and you can, of course either do it by get­ting rid of those sub­si­dies. But many of those are baked into the give­aways that gov­ern­ments give to many com­pa­nies, or you could think about increas­ing the car­bon price. And so remov­ing fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies and, or get­ting rid of, or, and adding a price on [00:23:00] car­bon, those two are at the top of my list because they would reset the play­ing field.

The other thing which I think is cen­tral to get­ting us to this clean econ­omy is that we’ve treated cli­mate change as kind of an aca­d­e­mic exer­cise. There are lots and lots of aca­d­e­mic groups, think tanks that write about what we need to do, and those are all true. But cli­mate change up until recently up until the efforts of Greta Thun­berg and the youth, and some of the real alarmists has not been a move­ment and the next stage needs to be a move­ment. And I think we’re see­ing that now, and mak­ing cli­mate change and social and racial jus­tice kind of co-​​equal part­ners, to me that’s an exam­ple of mov­ing from a crit­i­cal sci­en­tific issue to a movement.

Jason Jacobs:  And you men­tioned get­ting rid of fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies and a price on car­bon is two key things that we could do. I under­stand that, that those would both be impact­ful things to do but, I mean, how real­is­tic is it [00:24:00] that we can do either of those things any­time soon, regard­less of who wins in the upcom­ing election?

Daniel Kam­men:  This is really become an issue where the U.S. is the real out­lier. Europe has had a price of car­bon for quite some time. Well, over a decade, it has some prob­lems, the price has fluc­tu­ated. China is launch­ing a price of car­bon that will of course be the biggest car­bon mar­ket in the world. And China is launch­ing theirs at just about the exact same price that we have in Cal­i­for­nia, which is about 20 U.S. dol­lars a ton. That’s on the low end of the range we think is needed to tip whole economies but Europe, Cal­i­for­nia, China, being aligned on this means that the fed­eral argu­ment in the United States, because cer­tainly Repub­li­cans in the U.S. are against a car­bon price and some Democ­rats are too.

And so where I say, I would like to see a car­bon price, yes. Do I think we needed to get there? No, because I think that remov­ing these fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies would be essen­tially the equiv­a­lent and because clean [00:25:00] energy has become so inex­pen­sive, we really need to unlock inno­va­tion for pri­vate com­pa­nies to stay level, util­ity, plan­ners and reg­u­la­tors that often don’t see clean energy as cheap as it is because they’re so invest in the old way of doing things.

And so open­ing up mar­kets to clean energy, reward­ing cities that pro­tect human health, which often means the health of under­priv­i­leged peo­ple and minori­ties. Those are all things that we can put into place with­out hav­ing to spend all our time obsess­ing about a car­bon price or the sub­si­dies. And those things as well would move clean energy into the cen­tral part of our econ­omy. And every day you hear a story the Coal Museum in Ken­tucky just put solar pan­els on the roof. We have wild cat, nat­ural gas frack­ers that are using some of their land also do solar. Even in the indus­tries that are the most ide­o­log­i­cally opposed to clean energy, we’re see­ing that transition.

And then you look at places like [00:26:00] Cal­i­for­nia, we’ve been run­ning 60 to 75% on clean energy every day for the last month. Costa Rica just has run for almost 150 days straight with clean energy. Same thing is hap­pen­ing in Eng­land. And so we are see­ing that just on the energy infra­struc­ture gen­er­a­tion side clean energy can get there. And that’s even before we get to the jobs store and there are many, many more jobs avail­able per dol­lar invested in renew­ables than in fos­sil fuels. And so if you com­bine lower costs with more jobs the fact that clean energy has become such an ide­o­log­i­cal foot­ball in the United States and really buck­ing the global tran­si­tion, which is see­ing clean energy as the nat­ural way to go.

Jason Jacobs:  And I mean, we’ve talked about inno­va­tion and we’ve talked about cer­tain spe­cific pol­icy ini­tia­tives like the fos­sil fuel sub­si­dies or a price on car­bon. But if you look big­ger pic­ture at things like cap­i­tal­ism, and [00:27:00] even just like the way that we’re used to liv­ing our lives, I mean, can those just kinda go on as they do except swap­ping out things that are clean or do we need dra­matic changes or some­where in between? Like, I guess, how do the things we’ve been talk­ing about on the tech­nol­ogy and pol­icy side fit into the big­ger pic­ture and what are the impli­ca­tions for life as we know it, if any?

Daniel Kam­men:  The pref­ace that I would say that inno­va­tion, new com­pa­nies, new busi­ness mod­els is all about the future. Whereas pol­i­tics is gen­er­ally about the past, because pol­i­tics is gen­er­ally about who is rich and in pow­ered today. Whereas every startup and even big com­pa­nies that wanna build new mar­kets, they’re all about the future. And so inno­va­tion and indus­try I think are aligned around the clean energy econ­omy we wanna see. And even Shell they were dra­mat­i­cally cut­ting their fos­sil fuel busi­ness and ramp­ing up the renew­able busi­ness. But the broader ques­tion you ask, is it enough to sim­ply close our fos­sil plants and swap in renew­ables? That’s a harder ques­tion because we have done such dam­age to the [00:28:00] planet. And COVID for exam­ple, there’s no ques­tion that the chance of COVID type out­breaks is where it is today because we have done such dam­age to nature.

We have put humans in much more direct con­tact with many of the pathogens and ill­nesses. We have weak­ened ecosys­tems that keep things like this in check. And so switch­ing from a dirty energy econ­omy to a clean energy com­pany has to be job one. If we don’t do that, noth­ing else works. But on the other hand, we also need to give back land to nature. We need to think very dif­fer­ently about the social con­tract we have with each other, so that one out of seven on the planet isn’t liv­ing in energy poverty. And to fix those things I think we do need the larger per­spec­tive you’re talk­ing about. And so for exam­ple, clean energy isn’t just ben­e­fi­cial because there’s no car­bon emis­sions. It’s also ben­e­fi­cial because by man­ag­ing the sup­ply, the life cycle of mate­ri­als in our solar pan­els and wind tur­bines and [00:29:00] bat­ter­ies, we can actu­ally go to an econ­omy which the Chi­nese call cir­cu­lar econ­omy, we can be recy­cling much, much more of material.

So we don’t throw away the lithium in our cell phone, we recy­cle it into new devices. We don’t pour the efflu­ent, the slag from our coal plants into rivers, we invest in renew­able so that we can repair ecosys­tems. And we’re now start­ing to see the first really hope­ful signs. In Cal­i­for­nia and British Colum­bia we’re see­ing seri­ous efforts to decom­mis­sion dams. Yes, they’re con­sid­ered low car­bon, but of course, dams in many parts of the world have sub­merged veg­e­ta­tion so those methane emis­sions. But by think­ing about the oppor­tu­ni­ties from solar and wind and geot­her­mal and poten­tially nuclear to now get rid of some of the world’s big dams and to return rivers to free flow­ing sta­tus, that’s a invalu­able ben­e­fit of the clean energy tran­si­tion. And if we [00:30:00] don’t do those things, we’re not reap­ing all the benefits.

And so I think that an exam­ple that comes up a lot which really just encap­su­lates how far you can go is the tran­si­tion from a gas pow­ered car to an elec­tric vehi­cle isn’t just about the improve­ment in miles per gal­lon, which is all ready impres­sive. Gas pow­ered cower aver­age in the United States, 25, 28 miles per gal­lon, elec­tric vehi­cle, even in the states pow­ered by coal that’s a vehi­cle get­ting 60, 70 miles per gal­lon and elec­tric vehi­cle in a clean energy state like Cal­i­for­nia or New York or Ver­mont that’s a vehi­cle get­ting 120, 130 miles per gal­lon. So the mile per gal­lon equiv­a­lent is a big deal. That’s just the start. Go to an elec­tric vehi­cle you have no tailpipe emis­sions, which means you improve air qual­ity in our cities, you cut down the bills that we get from expo­sure to par­tic­u­lates and asthma. You have co-​​benefits that fre­quently ben­e­fit the poor more than any­where else.

And as we [00:31:00] go to a cleaner and cleaner elec­tric­ity mix we don’t just cite those emis­sions at some big power plants, we get rid of them from the sys­tem alto­gether except for the man­u­fac­tur­ing, which we can also clean up. So that’s this kind of win-​​win or kind of vir­tu­ous cycle that you start to see as you empha­size clean energy, more and more.

Jason Jacobs:  You men­tioned the impor­tance of social and racial jus­tice both as some­thing that needs to be addressed, but also kind of a close col­lab­o­ra­tor to the decar­boniza­tion and mutual depen­den­cies, if you will. So what makes say that and how will that play out? How should that play out?

Daniel Kam­men:  So we really didn’t rec­og­nize for decades just how dam­ag­ing to our most vul­ner­a­ble pop­u­la­tions our fos­sil fuel econ­omy is. We have our oil refiner­ies that are in low-​​income areas, and whether all are fin­ery came first, or the low income com­mu­nity came [00:32:00] first, it’s kind of, doesn’t really mat­ter they are co-​​located. Our nuclear indus­try has much of the waste and the min­ing issues and low income com­mu­ni­ties, whereas the power plants tend to go into the nicer sub­urbs. And so every­thing from the fos­sil fuel to how we’ve treated infra­struc­ture has been some­thing where the ben­e­fits have gone to the afflu­ent and the harms have gone to the poor. And this is some­thing that we are see­ing very clearly in COVID. We are see­ing that the qual­ity of care goes first to the more afflu­ent, not to lower income indi­vid­u­als. We have more cases of COVID on the Navajo reser­va­tion than in 13 states combined.

So we have a sad his­tory of dis­pro­por­tion­ate ben­e­fits to the afflu­ent and the penalty is to the poor. And what’s come out of the Greta Thun­berg youth cli­mate move­ment to the black lives mat­ter move­ment has been a real recog­ni­tion that we need to rethink our infra­struc­ture. And thank­fully clean energy is aligned with [00:33:00] that mis­sion and just a remark­able way. The abil­ity to have low cost energy on the rooftop of homes to reduce the pol­lu­tion bur­den in low-​​income com­mu­ni­ties, to not only link up how we do power gen­er­a­tion but to do cleaner, cleaner indus­trial activ­i­ties through renew­ables and poten­tially nuclear. These are all oppor­tu­ni­ties that the clean life cycle of renew­ables allows us to engage on the social jus­tice side. And I think we’re gonna look back at this period of time and we’re gonna see that deal­ing with inequal­ity and greed was far more dif­fi­cult than deal­ing with dirty energy, clean energy sim­ply beats it out.

I hate to say it in this day and age, but renew­ables Trump fos­sil fuels. What’s harder for us to wrap our minds around is how do we really make this a story about social equal­ity. Because we’re more tied to our petty dif­fer­ences and petty grieves that I think we’re gonna see [00:34:00] our­selves as tied to fos­sil fuels.

Jason Jacobs:  One of the things that I strug­gle with is that on any given day, I bounce back and forth between see­ing so many things that give me cause for opti­mism and hope and so many things that give me cause for despair. And so it’s just hard to know how we’re doing. If you just take a point in time snap­shot look at the math, we’re not doing well at all, but if you look at all the dif­fer­ent things that are going on that could feed each other and have vir­tual cycles kick in, there’s a lot to be encour­aged about. But then same thing in terms of the apa­thy, the foot drag­ging the sab­o­tag­ing, the trade groups work­ing mali­ciously behind the scenes, et cetera. So at this moment in time, so this is what? August 6th of 2020, where are we on that pen­du­lum as you look at the world?

Daniel Kam­men:  Well, I mean, I think that we’re at a low not due to tech­nol­ogy and inno­va­tion and social progress, we’re at a low due to par­ti­san­ship. In the ‘50s and early ‘60s for all of the prob­lems we gen­er­ated huge amounts of pol­lu­tion, we iso­lated minori­ties in com­mu­ni­ties through white [00:35:00] flight, through a whole vari­ety of things. There was a, an invest­ment and a reliance on inno­va­tion from fund­ing basic research and devel­op­ment to test­ing out new ideas. And in this very par­ti­san moment we’re in, the fact that in the United States there’s even this argu­ment that we should trust sci­ence or not. And the right wing of the Repub­li­can party has high­lighted a real dis­trust for sci­ence despite the fact that the qual­ity of their own lives is very clearly depen­dent on that sci­en­tific advance, from med­i­cine and health­care to qual­ity of homes and jobs. And so I really look at this as a moment that we’ll look back on and just shake our heads and how self destruc­tive we were at a time when we weren’t actu­ally cham­pi­oning science.

The real issue is not you invest in sci­ence or not, it’s how do you make sci­ence and inno­va­tion some­thing which is a part­ner­ship, not just for [00:36:00] the all ready afflu­ent. That were solv­ing prob­lems that are prob­lems for the poor and that any­one who really feels they want to grow up to be a sci­en­tist inno­va­tor that’s an avail­able path. And we now are see­ing clear, clear data that if you’re Latino, if you’re African-​​American, your chance to go into these fields over the past decades has been severely lim­ited by sys­temic racism. So I see this as a really sad moment and I’m very hope­ful that we will emerge from. Most of the rest of the world is emerg­ing from it, most of the met­rics around invest­ing in sci­ence and inno­va­tion in Europe and South Korea and else­where are very positive.

United States right now is at a point where dis­cussing schools and health­care and invest­ing in research devel­op­ment have become par­ti­san divides. And it’s just so painful because the peo­ple argu­ing against these things, their lives have been made so much bet­ter by being pro sci­ence, pro inno­va­tion. So this is the big­ger prob­lem we need to [00:37:00] fix.

Jason Jacobs:  So what do we do? I mean, granted the U.S. is only one piece. I mean, we had a big­ger role his­tor­i­cally than we’ll have going for­wards from a, an emis­sion stand­point but we still have played an out­size role and we have out­sized resources and might rel­a­tive to much rest of the world and a respon­si­bil­ity. I would argue to have a lead­er­ship role in clean­ing up the mess that we played a sig­nif­i­cant role in mak­ing. Cer­tainly there’s a good chunk of the coun­try that doesn’t seem to agree with that but, I mean, what path for­ward do you see that would give you the most hope?

Daniel Kam­men:  Iron­i­cally I think that we’ve allowed our­selves to get here because we have mar­gin­al­ized peo­ple for so long. Low income minor­ity groups across the coun­try have got­ten the short end of the stick over and over again in terms of access to the ben­e­fits of a tech­no­log­i­cal pol­icy savvy soci­ety. And we’re see­ing other places pass us by. And so I actu­ally think that rec­og­niz­ing that many of our chal­lenges are gonna require bet­ter [00:38:00] sci­en­tific lit­er­acy, bet­ter human lit­er­acy, in the sense of under­stand­ing that we are only as good as soci­ety as the most vul­ner­a­ble and that walling off com­mu­ni­ties through tech­nol­ogy and through phys­i­cal bar­ri­ers that’s a recipe for decay.

Whereas invest­ing in com­mu­ni­ties, pub­lic schools, so that equity and access are part of our equa­tion. I actu­ally think that helps us to solve cli­mate and I think that solv­ing cli­mate helps us to rec­og­nize that soci­eties that become as unequal as ours is, and actu­ally Brazil in the United States are two of the most inequitable soci­eties we have in terms of eco­nomic oppor­tu­nity for low income res­i­dents and high-​​income. Iron­i­cally, we both right now have lead­ers that are going in the absolute wrong direc­tion and so replac­ing both the leader in the United States and in Brazil are crit­i­cal jobs to get­ting there soci­eties to rec­og­nize [00:39:00] that we can inno­vate and we can do it in a way that’s for everyone.

Right now we see that inno­va­tion, the wor­ries of glob­al­iza­tion, the wor­ries of invest­ment are things that only ben­e­fit the rich. That is the fea­ture I think as we can undo that catch up to the rest of the world, we can actu­ally make inno­va­tion some­thing that every­one, no mat­ter what your polit­i­cal party in per­sua­sion is in favor of. And inno­va­tion I don’t just mean hard­ware, I also mean social inno­va­tions. How do we inte­grate com­mu­ni­ties? How do we make school access more equal? How do we make air qual­ity ben­e­fi­cial and not just for the rich, but for every­one, those are all cli­mate and soci­ety inter­face points.

Jason Jacobs:  So Jan­u­ary 2021 there’s a new admin­is­tra­tion in place. Who­ever it is, it could be an incum­bent, it could be new, but there’s a, admin­is­tra­tion in place for the next four years. What advice do you have for that sit­ting pres­i­dent for first 100 days and for the next four years in [00:40:00] terms of what they should be focus­ing on in this regard?

Daniel Kam­men:  We are still gonna be work­ing the COVID recov­ery at that point as well. And part of that recov­ery is to rec­og­nize that sub­si­diz­ing pol­lu­tion and inequal­ity are not good tools for gov­er­nance. And the coun­tries that have made their COVID response also a green stim­u­lus like South Korea and New Zealand and Den­mark, they’re all ready reap­ing the ben­e­fits. Their economies are open. Kids are to school there, they wear masks but they don’t worry about this incred­i­ble bur­den that we’re see­ing here. And it’s because we turned away from sci­ence and innovation.

And so who­ever is the pres­i­dent in Jan­u­ary I cer­tainly think that the key advice is that by not invest­ing in clean energy and inequity, we are throw­ing away social ben­e­fits. And we’re throw­ing away oppor­tu­ni­ties to make our­selves not only [00:41:00] a faster grow­ing econ­omy but also more resilient against crises like COVID. Because we all know whether it’s a virus, we’re gonna have other huge crises going for­ward. Aus­tralia just live through a hor­rific wild­fire sea­son where up to 3 bil­lion ani­mals were killed. And whether it’s that, or whether it’s COVID or the wild­fire sea­son here, or the chang­ing storms that are cur­rently lash­ing to bit these coasts, these are all exam­ples of the kinds of things that a pro-​​equity and green energy econ­omy can actu­ally help us to solve. So who­ever is the pres­i­dent I really hope that’s the cen­tral fea­ture. And any­one who wants an eco­nomic recov­ery needs to rec­og­nize that’s where you put your resources.

Jason Jacobs:  So I have one final ques­tion. I’ll ask it kind of in parts which is, are you an opti­mist? But I wanna ask you that same ques­tion over say one year, five years, 10 years, 100 years.

Daniel Kam­men:  I think actu­ally the answer is the same for each of those, [00:42:00] because we have demon­strated through this past cen­tury that when we wanna inno­vate around a topic. When we invest not just in a one-​​off bunch of money for some­thing one year, but when we invest reg­u­larly, basic research, more equi­table school­ing, health care, these are things we have exam­ples around the planet that if you wanna do it, we can do it. The chal­lenge is the United States has put itself in a hugely par­ti­san box. And so I’m equally opti­mistic on all those timescales that you men­tioned from the next month for the next 100 years, given that I think it’s inevitable that we get back into invest­ing and believ­ing in inno­va­tion and equity. And I think if we do those two things we make the story much more work­able. And we also restore the U.S. to the posi­tion it should be in of being not a global police per­son but being a global part­ner. Because the economies around the planet know they need to grow their energy mix.

[00:43:00] When Pres­i­dent Obama and pre­mier chief from China were part­ner­ing on cli­mate, the U.S. was get­ting a huge share of those over­seas energy con­tracts. We now need to get back to that posi­tion. The U.S. China trade war has taken us away on the short term from a really inter­est­ing evolv­ing part­ner­ship around energy access and clean energy around the planet. So I actu­ally think that those timescales are gonna work together when we decide we’re tired of tear­ing each other down in United States and we’re more inter­ested in actu­ally grow­ing our abil­ity to be not a bully, but a leader worldwide.

Jason Jacobs:  And I feel like we could eas­ily extend this con­ver­sa­tion in another hour, but given that I know you’ve got a call and we’re com­ing up on time. Is there any­thing that I didn’t ask you that I should have, or any part­ing words for listeners?

Daniel Kam­men:  We’re all gonna make our own choices in Novem­ber, I hope just every­one no mat­ter what your indi­vid­ual party affil­i­a­tions are, that you rec­og­nize that we need to invest in U.S. infra­struc­ture. We need to be a bet­ter part­ner around the world that will gen­er­ate more U.S. jobs and I think that if one votes once con­scious around that, we will actu­ally see what’s hap­pened the last few years as an unfor­tu­nate digres­sion to do par­ti­san­ship, but it’s much eas­ier to build up these oppor­tu­ni­ties. So that’s what I’m look­ing for in the com­ing months.

Jason Jacobs:  Great. Well, Dan, this was awe­some. I wish we had another hour. Maybe we’ll have you back at some point, but thank you so much for com­ing on the show and best of luck.

Daniel Kam­men:  It’s my plea­sure. Thanks for doing this. Take care.

Jason Jacobs:  Hey every­one, Jason here. Thanks again for join­ing me on my cli­mate jour­ney. If you’d like to learn more about the jour­ney, you can visit us Note that is .co not .com, some­day we’ll get the .com but right now .co. You can also find me on Twit­ter @jjacobs22 where I would encour­age you to share your feed­back on the episode or sug­ges­tions for future guests you’d like to hear. And before I let you go, if you enjoyed the show please share an episode with a friend or con­sider leav­ing a review on iTunes. The lawyers may be say that, thank you.



9/​18/​2020: KQED Newsroom, “Climate change and the economic outlook”

To watch the inter­view and dis­cus­sion video, click here on the KQED website.

Fight­ing Cli­mate Change Amid Wild­fires, Extreme Weather and Pres­i­den­tial Denial

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On Mon­day, dur­ing a trip to Cal­i­for­nia, Pres­i­dent Trump refused to acknowl­edge the role cli­mate change has played in gen­er­at­ing wild­fires that have burned more than 3 mil­lion acres and killed at least 26 peo­ple, includ­ing one fire­fighter bat­tling the El Dorado Fire east of Los Ange­les. Trump asserted that poor for­est man­age­ment was to blame and that the weather would get cooler. But Trump’s denial of cli­mate change is at odds with pub­lic opin­ion. Accord­ing to the Yale Pro­gram on Cli­mate Change Com­mu­ni­ca­tion, more than 70% of Amer­i­cans believe that cli­mate change is hap­pen­ing, and nearly 60% believe that it is mostly due to human activ­i­ties. Mean­while, Cal­i­for­nia remains a leader on fight­ing green­house gas emis­sions, with more than 30% of its energy com­ing from renew­ables like solar and wind, a fig­ure that is man­dated to dou­ble in a decade. Last week, Gov. Gavin New­som said the state would accel­er­ate its cli­mate change strate­gies, includ­ing a goal to get to 100% carbon-​​free elec­tric­ity by 2045.



New RAEL-​​WWF joint piece on clean energy for cul­tural and bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion in the Mekong region.

China Dia­log, Sep­tem­ber 2, 2020.

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For access, click here.

And for the ver­sion on the RAEL pages, click here.


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New paper on household cooking and community engagement

New paper by  Annelise Gill-​​Wiehl and Daniel Kam­men in The Beam:

Avail­able on the RAEL pub­li­ca­tions website:



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Lessons From 2009 for a Green Stimulus Today

Lessons From 2009 for a Green Stim­u­lus Today

For the orig­i­nal: https://​www​.green​tech​me​dia​.com/​a​r​t​i​c​l​e​s​/​r​e​a​d​/​w​h​a​t​-​a​-​n​e​w​-​g​r​e​e​n​-​s​t​i​m​u​l​u​s​-​c​a​n​-​l​e​a​r​n​-​f​r​o​m​-​2​009



A clean-​​energy com­pany funded through a Depart­ment of Energy loan recently filed for bankruptcy.

Tonopah Solar Energy, the builder of a 110-​​megawatt con­cen­trated solar power site, joined the ranks of bank­rupt Solyn­dra and Abound Solar. Those com­pa­nies all received money through the 2009 Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act (ARRA), which set out $90 bil­lion for clean energy at the depth of that recession.

Despite such fail­ures, DOE loan guar­an­tee pro­grams for new energy tech­nolo­gies — enacted dur­ing the George W. Bush admin­is­tra­tion — have been a suc­cess over­all. The DOE has dis­bursed nearly $30 bil­lion to new and emerg­ing tech­nolo­gies, with over­all port­fo­lio losses around just 2.7 per­cent, which is bet­ter than that achieved by most major banks. So far, the gov­ern­ment has already received $3.15 bil­lion in inter­est pay­ments, with less than $1 bil­lion in actual and esti­mated losses.

Along­side the program’s fail­ures have come sig­nif­i­cant suc­cesses, such as Tesla and the once largest-​​in-​​the-​​world Desert Sun­light solar project, devel­oped by First Solar. In the decade since ARRA’s pas­sage, the solar PV space has trans­formed from a nascent mar­ket to an energy-​​industry pow­er­house as instal­la­tion costs fell about 70 percent.

ARRA is a huge suc­cess,” said Daniel Kam­men, a pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley who has advised DOE. “A few bank­rupt­cies don’t dimin­ish that fact. You’d be shocked if there weren’t some bankruptcies.”

As the U.S. faces the prospect of another cat­a­strophic reces­sion, many are now look­ing to ARRA as a tem­plate for a “green stim­u­lus” pack­age. The land­scape for clean energy is dif­fer­ent today: Solar PV and onshore wind are mature tech­nolo­gies, and the threat from cli­mate change is much more pro­nounced. But there are lessons to be drawn from 2009, experts say, start­ing with set­ting the right expectations.

The Tonopah bankruptcy

Cres­cent Dunes, a con­cen­trated solar power (CSP) project sited in the Nevada desert run by Tonopah Solar Energy and devel­oped by the now-​​defunct Solar­Reserve, had been imper­iled for some time.

At the time Cres­cent Dunes received its $737 mil­lion loan guar­an­tee from the DOE, CSP was viewed as a promis­ing tech­nol­ogy in part because it could incor­po­rate ther­mal stor­age. But numer­ous snags at the site, such as an extended shut­down related to a leak at Cres­cent Dunes’ molten salt ther­mal stor­age tank and off­taker NV Energy’s move to ter­mi­nate its con­tract with the project last year, mired the project in uncer­tainty. When Solar­Reserve, of which Tonopah is an affil­i­ate, ceased oper­a­tions last year, there were warn­ings that a Tonopah bank­ruptcy was in the offing.

Mean­while, com­par­a­tively huge cost declines in solar PV have largely rel­e­gated Cres­cent Dunes and other Amer­i­can CSP projects to a novelty.

The Chap­ter 11 process is designed to allow Tonopah, a project com­pany, to reor­ga­nize its debt and pay back the fed­eral gov­ern­ment hun­dreds of mil­lions of dol­lars. Under the arrange­ment, Spain’s ACS Cobra, which pro­vided engi­neer­ing, pro­cure­ment and con­struc­tion ser­vices on the project, would own the entirety of Cres­cent Dunes when it exits bankruptcy.

The Tonopah project is at risk of join­ing the now-​​infamous solar man­u­fac­turer Solyn­dra as a high-​​profile fail­ure of the loan pro­gram. But that asso­ci­a­tion — and an overem­pha­sis on any loan pro­gram bank­ruptcy — “misses the for­est for the trees,” said Dan Reicher, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Stan­ford Uni­ver­sity Steyer-​​Taylor Cen­ter for Energy Pol­icy & Finance. Reicher served as Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Energy for Energy Effi­ciency and Renew­able Energy for the Clin­ton admin­is­tra­tion and on the Obama tran­si­tion team that worked on the clean energy stim­u­lus package.

Jeff Navin, a co-​​founder and part­ner at con­sul­tancy Bound­ary Stone Part­ners, who worked at both the Labor Depart­ment and the Depart­ment of Energy dur­ing the Obama admin­is­tra­tion, said fail­ures should be expected in any port­fo­lio, espe­cially when that port­fo­lio is geared toward fund­ing new technologies.

The biggest mis­take we made with the loan guar­an­tee process through the Recov­ery Act was fail­ing to set the right expec­ta­tions,” Navin said in an email. “Every loan port­fo­lio at every bank in Amer­ica has some por­tion of the port­fo­lio that doesn’t perform.”

Lessons for a new green stimulus

With the coro­n­avirus pan­demic and U.S. gov­ern­ment response depress­ing the econ­omy, Navin, Kam­men and Reicher told Green­tech Media the U.S. has an oppor­tu­nity to trans­late the suc­cess­ful parts of ARRA to a mod­ern stimulus.

The chal­lenges are a lot higher right now, because we have not only a seri­ous reces­sion but also a global pan­demic and a cli­mate prob­lem worse than a decade ago,” said Reicher. “It’s really a triple whammy that’s more sub­stan­tial than the chal­lenge we had a decade ago.”

Many early-​​stage and bur­geon­ing tech­nolo­gies — such as car­bon cap­ture and stor­age, float­ing off­shore wind and energy stor­age — need the same type of sup­port that ARRA pro­vided to utility-​​scale solar, Reicher said, espe­cially in a land­scape where inter­na­tional com­pe­ti­tion on clean-​​energy tech­nolo­gies has grown significantly.

Reicher favors the cre­ation of a Clean Energy Deploy­ment Admin­is­tra­tion, an idea intro­duced in Con­gress years ago, which would allow an inde­pen­dent fed­eral financ­ing agency to hold the purse strings on dis­burs­ing funds to renew­ables and lever­ag­ing pri­vate invest­ment to boost deployment.

A stim­u­lus pack­age may be a log­i­cal vehi­cle to include clean-​​energy incen­tives — though law­mak­ers are cur­rently embroiled in argu­ments on any type of pub­lic health and finan­cial sup­port — but Reicher said the gov­ern­ment has sev­eral other options beyond stim­u­lus legislation.

Pol­i­cy­mak­ers could insert clean-​​energy incen­tives into a poten­tial infra­struc­ture pack­age (a House infra­struc­ture pack­age passed in June included some clean-​​energy wins). They could also expand tax cred­its for renew­ables, or open the ben­e­fits of master-​​limited part­ner­ships, which do not pay fed­eral income taxes, to clean energy.

Dol­lars and sense

There’s also the ques­tion of how much sup­port to give. Onshore wind and utility-​​scale solar are now largely com­pet­i­tive on their own and are the cheap­est forms of new gen­er­a­tion in many parts of the coun­try. But scal­ing a renewables-​​based energy sys­tem quickly enough to meet the cli­mate chal­lenge would require sub­stan­tial gov­ern­ment sup­port and intervention.

A green stim­u­lus pro­posal pub­lished by a group of energy, social and envi­ron­men­tal pol­icy experts in March, which Kam­men co-​​authored, called for sig­nif­i­cantly more invest­ment than what was included in ARRA. That pro­posal, which, like the Green New Deal, pri­or­i­tized envi­ron­men­tal and energy jus­tice, sug­gested at least $2 tril­lion in ini­tial invest­ment with a renewal of at least 4 per­cent of GDP each year until the U.S. fully decar­bonizes its economy.

Pre­sump­tive Demo­c­ra­tic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Joe Biden bor­rowed that $2 tril­lion sum for an updated clean energy plan that his cam­paign released in July which empha­sizes job cre­ation and 100 per­cent carbon-​​free elec­tric­ity nation­wide by 2035.

Any such plan will face the real­ity that a grow­ing num­ber of con­gres­sional Repub­li­cans are rais­ing alarms over the expand­ing fed­eral bud­get deficit, hav­ing largely remained silent on the issue as the deficit bal­looned under Pres­i­dent Trump.

Kam­men said any stim­u­lus — whether post-​​election or in response to the coro­n­avirus pan­demic — would be wise to con­sider the sig­nif­i­cant employ­ment poten­tial that comes along with sig­nif­i­cant renew­ables investments.

[For] green stim­u­lus plans, there’s a really good energy-​​and-​​jobs com­bi­na­tion,” said Kam­men. “That’s the com­pelling high-​​level message.”

Rolling blackouts called off as California grid stabilizes amid heat wave

Rolling black­outs called off as Cal­i­for­nia grid sta­bi­lizes amid heat wave

 & , Aug 17, 2020

For the original:


Wide­spread black­outs to reduce pres­sure on the elec­tric grid were averted Mon­day night after reg­u­la­tors warned ear­lier in the day that they would not have enough power to meet demand in the midst of a heat wave.

The Cal­i­for­nia Inde­pen­dent Sys­tem Oper­a­tor lifted its emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion shortly before 8 p.m. Mon­day, after the state’s power grid oper­a­tor had warned that it expected to imple­ment rotat­ing out­ages that could have left mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans in the dark for up to two hours.

Cal­i­for­nia ISO would have ordered util­i­ties to shed their power loads as demand for elec­tric­ity to cool homes soared. The oper­a­tor had said as many as 3.3 mil­lion homes and busi­nesses would be affected but later reduced that to around a half-​​million before can­celling the option.

Pleas for peo­ple to leave their air con­di­tion­ers at higher tem­per­a­tures and avoid using wash­ing machines and other major appli­ances seemed to have worked.

Thank you for con­serv­ing,” Cal­i­for­nia ISO said in a tweet.

The first rolling black­outs in nearly 20 years came Fri­day as unusu­ally hot weather over­whelmed the elec­tri­cal grid. The three biggest util­i­ties — Pacific Gas & Elec­tric, South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Edi­son and San Diego Gas & Elec­tric — turned off power to more than 410,000 homes and busi­nesses for about an hour at a time until the emer­gency dec­la­ra­tion ended 3 1/​2 hours later.

A sec­ond but shorter out­age hit Sat­ur­day evening, affect­ing more than 200,000 cus­tomers. Cal­i­for­ni­ans packed beaches and river banks over the week­end to cool off from scorch­ing triple-​​digit tem­per­a­tures that raised the risk of more wild­fires and fears of the coro­n­avirus spread­ing.

An irate Gov. Gavin New­som signed an emer­gency procla­ma­tion Sun­day allow­ing some energy users and util­i­ties to tap backup energy sources. He acknowl­edged Mon­day that the state failed to pre­dict and plan for the energy shortages.

I am not pleased with what’s hap­pened,” he said dur­ing a news brief­ing. “You shouldn’t be pleased with the moment that we’re in here in the state of California.”

New­som also sent a let­ter demand­ing that the state Energy Com­mis­sion, state Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion and the Cal­i­for­nia Inde­pen­dent Sys­tem Oper­a­tor inves­ti­gate the blackouts.

The Demo­c­ra­tic gov­er­nor said res­i­dents bat­tling a heat wave and a pan­demic in which they’re encour­aged to stay home were left with­out the basic neces­sity of elec­tric­ity. In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, tem­per­a­tures reached a record high of 110 in Lan­caster and 111 in Palmdale.

These black­outs, which occurred with­out prior warn­ing or enough time for prepa­ra­tion, are unac­cept­able and unbe­fit­ting of the nation’s largest and most inno­v­a­tive state,” New­som wrote in the let­ter. “This can­not stand. Cal­i­for­nia res­i­dents and busi­nesses deserve bet­ter from their government.”

Dur­ing a grid oper­a­tor board meet­ing Mon­day, Cal­i­for­nia ISO CEO and Pres­i­dent Steve Berberich said. said the week­end black­outs could have been avoided had reg­u­la­tors lis­tened to its pre­vi­ous con­cerns about a power short­fall. In call later with reporters, he soft­ened his tone, say­ing he knows the Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion is work­ing to find the right bal­ance of energy sources.

It’s sub­stan­tial, no ques­tion about it,” he said of the outage.

The Pub­lic Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion said it would work with the other agen­cies to fig­ure out what hap­pened. The demand for elec­tric­ity in the last few days has been con­sis­tent with expec­ta­tions, spokes­woman Ter­rie Pros­per said.

The ques­tion we’re tack­ling is why cer­tain resources were not avail­able,” she said.

The last time a Cal­i­for­nia gov­er­nor faced power out­ages, he was suc­cess­fully recalled. Gray Davis, a Demo­c­rat, was recalled in Octo­ber 2003 and replaced by Arnold Schwarzeneg­ger, a Republican.

Daniel Kam­men, an energy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, said the state needs to do more to store and sell clean energy sources, and he hopes this week’s black­outs will prompt offi­cials to act.

This is kind of a stress test on the sys­tem,” he said. “We have not built up enough of a smart enough sys­tem to take advan­tage of all the renew­ables we have in place.”

Cus­tomers are asked to reduce energy use through Wednes­day night, espe­cially dur­ing peak evening hours.

Bon­nie Wik­ler, 66, wor­ried about her hus­band, who is recov­er­ing from open heart surgery. She said it was very stress­ful to lose power twice over the week­end at their home in Coalinga, a city in cen­tral Cal­i­for­nia where tem­per­a­tures reached 109 Fahren­heit (43 Celsius).

They thought about dri­ving some­where but were too afraid of coro­n­avirus expo­sure, so they stayed home and cooled off with ice water, she said.

If there was a fire or an earth­quake, I would under­stand, but to cut power with­out let­ting you know, it just seems out­landish to me,” Wik­ler said.

Berberich acknowl­edged that his agency should have given more pub­lic notice, say­ing, “We own that and are sorry we didn’t do more.”

In Marin County, just north of San Fran­cisco, offi­cials opened a cool­ing cen­ter that only 21 peo­ple vis­ited over the week­end, spokes­woman Laine Hen­dricks said. It’s equipped with a backup gen­er­a­tor, and employ­ees are screen­ing for COVID-​​19 symp­toms and ensur­ing peo­ple are wear­ing masks, she said.

We’re still in a shelter-​​in-​​place envi­ron­ment,” Hen­dricks said. “Even though it’s hot out­side, COVID hasn’t gone away.”

Cal­i­for­nia also still faces the threat of power out­ages to pre­vent wild­fires. Thou­sands were with­out power for days last year when Pacific Gas & Elec­tric and other util­i­ties shut off lines amid high, dry winds in order to pre­vent wildfires.

Q&A: California’s new electricity-​​blackout challenge

Q&A: California’s new electricity-​​blackout challenge


FILE - In this Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020, file photo, electrical grid transmission towers are seen in Pasadena, Calif. As if the pandemic and recession weren’t bad enough, millions of Californians have been facing the recurring threats of abrupt blackouts during a heat wave in the nation’s most populous state. Photo: John Antczak, AP / Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — As if the pan­demic and eco­nomic reces­sion weren’t bad enough, mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans now face recur­ring threats of abrupt black­outs dur­ing a heat wave in the nation’s most pop­u­lous state.

California’s Inde­pen­dent Sys­tem Oper­a­tor, a non­profit agency that man­ages the state’s power sup­ply, ordered util­i­ties to impose tem­po­rary black­outs for the first time in 19 years last Fri­day and did so again Sat­ur­day, pulling the plug on hun­dreds of thou­sands of cus­tomers for one to two hours. The specter of so-​​called “rolling out­ages” have loomed as a pos­si­bil­ity every day since, and were nar­rowly averted Mon­day evening after “stun­ning” con­ser­va­tion efforts, accord­ing to ISO pres­i­dent Steve Berberich.

Con­ser­va­tion helped avoid threat­ened out­ages again Tues­day and may be needed again Wednes­day to keep the power run­ning. Tem­per­a­tures are finally sup­posed to ease Thurs­day, but more out­ages could still loom if things heat up as much as some fore­casts suggest.

The black­outs seemed to catch gov­ern­ment offi­cials off guard, despite an ISO warn­ing in Jan­u­ary that the state could run low on power over the sum­mer if sev­eral west­ern states were to expe­ri­ence extreme heat at the same time — which indeed hap­pened sev­eral days ago.

This has been a rude awak­en­ing for Cal­i­for­nia,” said Najmedin Meshkati, a Uni­ver­sity of South­ern Cal­i­for­nia civil and envi­ron­men­tal engi­neer­ing pro­fes­sor who has stud­ied the state’s power supply.

The out­ages prompted Gov. Gavin New­som, a Demo­c­rat, to order an inves­ti­ga­tion into how the state’s energy sup­ply failed to keep up with demand. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump also weighed in with a Tues­day tweet blam­ing the state’s Democ­rats for the mess.

Here’s a look at California’s lat­est challenge.

Q: Cal­i­for­nia had rolling black­outs two decades ago because of power short­ages. Why hasn’t it learned from past mistakes?

Cir­cum­stances were very dif­fer­ent in 2000–2001. Back then, a recent dereg­u­la­tion of the state power mar­ket was going hor­ri­bly awry as energy traders manip­u­lated energy sup­plies to gouge util­i­ties. Black­out fall­out even­tu­ally led vot­ers to oust then-​​Gov. Gray Davis in a recall election.

These days, Cal­i­for­nia is try­ing to adapt to envi­ron­men­tal man­dates that have shut down natural-​​gas power plants in favor of solar and wind energy. In addi­tion, the San Onofre nuclear power plant in south­ern Cal­i­for­nia shut down in 2013 for safety rea­sons. Nearby west­ern states have also been phas­ing out coal-​​burning plants, reduc­ing other energy sup­plies avail­able for Cal­i­for­nia to import.

Renew­able energy reduces pol­lu­tion, but it can run short if winds die down or demand surges after sun­down. As much as 25% of California’s power sup­ply comes from solar sources. Both came to pass last Fri­day and Sat­ur­day as tem­per­a­tures stayed high into the evening, push­ing up air-​​conditioning demand for electricity.

Energy short­ages used to be the most severe around 4:30 p.m. on hot sum­mer days, but are now occur­ring after 7 p.m., the ISO says.

Oth­ers believe he prob­lem has more to do with Cal­i­for­nia fail­ing to man­age and prop­erly store power gen­er­ated from renew­able sources. “There is a cer­tain level of mis­in­for­ma­tion going on out there,” said Daniel Kam­men, a pro­fes­sor of energy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berkeley.

Q: This isn’t California’s first recent heat wave. What’s different?

The state’s high­est recorded demand for elec­tric­ity occurred in August 2006 when usage peaked at 50,270 megawatts, accord­ing to the ISO. No black­outs were nec­es­sary. But at the time, natural-​​gas plants were still pro­duc­ing about 7,000 megawatts of elec­tric­ity that is longer avail­able, said Sev­erin Boren­stein, an ISO board mem­ber who is also a pro­fes­sor of busi­ness admin­is­tra­tion and pub­lic pol­icy at the Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia. Berkeley.

A Sep­tem­ber 2017 heat wave caused demand to spike to 50,140 megawatts, the ISO said Tues­day. But power imported from other west­ern states that weren’t as hot helped save the day.

The recent short­ages would have likely been even worse but for pan­demic restric­tions that closed many large offices. By some esti­mates, the pan­demic so far has reduced over­all elec­tric­ity demand in Cal­i­for­nia and other parts of the coun­try by 8% to 10%.

Q: Doesn’t Cal­i­for­nia also face black­outs intended to pre­vent wildfires?

Yes, par­tic­u­larly in North­ern Cal­i­for­nia. Such black­outs are likely to be more severe than what the state has just expe­ri­enced. Some of the more than 2 mil­lion peo­ple affected by fire-​​fighting out­ages last fall were left with­out elec­tric­ity for sev­eral days, not just an hour or two.

It’s highly unlikely that the ISO would order rolling out­ages at the same time as a fire-​​prevention black­out, as demand will auto­mat­i­cally have already been reduced, Boren­stein said.

Q: How can Cal­i­for­nia avoid future rolling blackouts?

Invest­ments in elec­tric­ity stor­age and dis­tri­b­u­tion would do the trick, Kam­men said. But those could be expen­sive, and even harder to bud­get for at a time when the state faces huge deficits amid the pandemic-​​related slowdown.

Cal­i­for­nia also may have to con­sider extend­ing the life­time of its last nuclear power plant in Dia­blo Canyon. The plant is cur­rently sched­uled to close by the end of 2025, and keep­ing it open would likely face staunch resis­tance from envi­ron­men­tal­ists and politicians.

Con­ser­va­tion might be an eas­ier and quicker option. Cal­i­for­ni­ans have con­served effec­tively in the past, most recently in a water-​​saving cam­paign dur­ing a pro­longed drought. But no one knows if home­own­ers will agree to turn up ther­mostats a few degrees to pre­vent blackouts.

Util­i­ties, how­ever, can encour­age such behav­ior. Boren­stein sug­gests allow­ing util­i­ties to charge higher rates from 4 to 9 p.m. in exchange for lower prices at other hours as part of a vol­un­tary program.

What­ever mea­sures the state takes may only be the first step. “Look­ing ahead, who knows what to expect,” Boren­stein said. “All we know is the cli­mate is changing.”

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