Key lesson for California utilities from Texas: Be proactive

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As Southern California heads into warmer months, there are issues of wildfires, climate change, and rolling blackouts. And on the heels of devastating storms and collapse of the power grid in Texas, the question for Californians is: Are there key takeaways from that debacle that can be applied in the region here? 

“California has a significant amount of [energy] storage, and it’s flexible in the sense that it can be used when the demand for energy is far greater than the supply, which is part of what we saw in Texas,” says Sarah Brady, the deputy director of California Council on Science and Technology. 

California is moving toward getting all of its electricity from renewable energy sources. 

“We really need to think about safe nuclear power,” says USC engineering professor Najmedin Meshkati. “We have one nuclear plant in the state of California … and that’s Diablo Canyon that provides 8% of electricity. ... But then of course you have the problem of climate change and some of these unpredictables of climate change. They could affect renewables like wind or solar. That’s why we really need to keep our options open.” 

Nuclear safety is equally important, Meshkati notes. “One lesson we need to learn from Texas is that the energy-related matters are too serious to entrust to only economists and the blind deregulation.” 

Brady points out a key question in addition to the renewables: “What kind of clean baseload power can we provide?” 

She says there are many options that all have risks, trade-offs, and impacts on electricity costs: “We can think about geo-thermal power. We can think about gas-generation where the carbon dioxide is captured and buried underground. We can think about hydrogen from water, from solar power, so that it’s clean. All of these types, including nuclear, could provide seasonal reliability, as we start moving towards carbon-free energy sources.” 

Meshkati says California utilities must be proactive when thinking about developing a robust energy plan. “The business as usual [approach] is over. Climate change is here, it’s not a hoax, it’s not fake news. And we see the effect of that. The utilities need to look at the grid, they really need to take care of their maintenance of their grid, and they need to be proactive and improve their safety culture.” 

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