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California’s Renewable Energy Conundrum

California’s Renewable Energy Conundrum

Amid a heatwave in the West, the largest U.S. solar state, California, is grappling with power issues and with keeping its electricity grid stable as demand exceeds supply. And in a looming renewable future, those power disruptions just might be a sign of things to come.

California energy consumers were warned of rolling outages as there is insufficient energy to meet the high demand during the heatwave, the California Independent System Operator (ISO) said over the weekend.

The warning to Californians about the outages and strained grid should serve as a warning for policymakers and system operators across the United States and elsewhere: a rush to boost renewable energy power generation should be coupled with – and even preceded by – more careful planning on how to ensure the reliability and stability of the power grid.

California’s Struggles With Power Reliability

In the case of California, where solar power supplies more than 20 percent of electricity as per the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the rolling outages this week were the worst such outages since the 2000-2001 energy crisis in the state.

Some blame the current power crisis on California’s aggressive renewable energy rollout and retirement of natural gas-powered plants. Others say that there is a way for the state to reconcile renewables with reliability, although this would not come in the near term and certainly not soon enough to help with the current power supply issues.

It would seem that California has put the renewable cart before the proverbial horse.

The blame game and the debate about how exactly to cope with reliability in a heavily renewable power grid highlight the fact that meeting clean energy goals and reducing emissions should be made only after careful planning on how to ensure reliable power supply to customers and how to prepare the grid for an increased share of solar and wind power.

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