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electricity shortage in California

25/08/20 Publications, Europe

This energy crisis is caused by the privatization and deregulation of the production and supply of electricity decided in 1996 by California, like other states, in a context of vast privatization of this public service vital to the economy.

1996, privatisation and deregulation of the production and supply of electricity decided by the State of California (the same year the European Union adopted the 1st directive on the liberalisation of the electricity and gas sector).

2001, energy crisis in California, Enron bankruptcy.

2000 and 2001, period when California was experiencing an electricity shortage due to the Enron bankruptcy.

Enron was an American energy company, it was one of the largest American companies by market capitalization. It went bust with a bang, due to losses from its speculative operations in the electricity market, which had been disguised as profits through accounting manipulations.

2008, on Friday, January 4 and Saturday, January 5, 2008, more than 600,000 homes and businesses were without electricity following a hurricane storm that brought heavy rain and snowfall in Northern California, according to the power company Pacific Gas and Electric.

By 2019, hundreds of thousands of customers in California will be without power for fire prevention.

Preventive blackouts in San Francisco, northern and southern California. State governor Gavin Newsom accuses the operator PG & E of "negligence". Here again the private operator is being blamed.

August 2020, in California, the heat wave causes power outages for two million people.

The California authorities had to ask electricity suppliers to cut power to thousands of homes due to high demand during the heat wave and poor availability of renewable energy.

Temperatures are expected to remain very high this week.

High demand, solar out of order!

The Californian grid operator, ISO, calculated last Friday that the available production capacities would not be able to cope with the high demand for electricity. He therefore asked electricity suppliers to reduce demand by 1,000 megawatts, which corresponds to the consumption of 250,000 households, or about two million people.

Global warming with the heat wave in the state, as well as in neighbouring Nevada, is leading to over-consumption of electricity. This is caused by air conditioners running at full capacity. In hot weather, the countless air conditioners can account for 70% of residential consumption, according to the International Energy Agency.

Wind turbines and solar panels could probably compensate for the loss of nuclear capacity. California faces the sad reality of intermittent production.

For weeks now, the climate situation has been such that the wind has not been blowing much, and solar panels are ineffective at night while temperatures remain high. In the absence of storage capacity, the electricity produced during the day cannot be returned at night. The operators have no choice: in the absence of production capacity, they have to cut off their customers' electricity. One of the main Californian suppliers, PG & E, cut power to nearly 220,000 homes last week. The urgency of the situation forced it to cut power without warning its customers for periods of 60 to 90 minutes. More than 100,000 families supplied by Edison International suffered the same fate. Companies are also being called upon to help: suppliers are asking them to reduce their consumption.

On the morning of Thursday 20 August, more than half of California's electricity was produced by gas-fired power plants, a fossil fuel source that emits 490 grams of CO2 per kWh produced, 40 times more than nuclear power. The countless wind turbines provided only 17% of California's electricity, and solar power... 0% (it was still dark). The State's total CO2 emissions are shivering: the ElectricityMap site estimates them at 294 grams of CO2 per KWh produced, compared with 61 grams in France where, on Thursday morning, nuclear power supplied 60% of the electricity produced (hydropower 8%, solar power 10% and wind power 5%).

This is the sad reality of deregulation and the law of the electricity market! Short-term investments in facilities for a quick return, and profitable for shareholder remuneration when an energy policy requires a long-term policy that is accessible and meets the needs of all.

Finally, it can be seen that the subsidisation of renewable energy sources seriously unbalances investment and a low-carbon energy policy that meets the right to electricity for all.

The energy transition will only be a success with a public service that meets the needs of the nation, with an energy mix that does not overestimate the development capacity of RE and that integrates real industrial sectors, providing sustainable jobs and high level collective guarantees. The different RE sectors require public control to ensure the coherence of their development, and a reasonable level of support.

Energy is a strategic sector to be extracted from the clutches of the market, private interests and the logic of competition. An assessment of deregulation would be very useful for energy policy. We need in France a great public service, democratised and at the service of the general interest, for new cooperation in Europe and in the world so that the fate of France does not end like that of California...

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