Opinion: Renewables won’t keep Californians cool during heat waves

A quick bit of background: On July 6, the temperature hit 108 degrees in Los Angeles. A day later it hit 104 degrees, roughly 20 degrees hotter than normal. The scalding temperatures led to record electricity demand forcing the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power to ask customers to voluntarily cut their electricity use.

If climate forecasters are right, and hotter temperatures are the new normal in California, then the pain has just begun. Indeed, the unreliable nature of renewable energy, combined with subsidies for electric vehicles that will increase electricity demand, and the closure of the state’s nuclear plants, will mean higher bills and likely more blackouts for California consumers.

California has mandated that the state’s utilities obtain half of their electricity from renewables by 2030. Although that mandate has a feel-good political appeal, data from the California Energy Commission shows that wind and solar energy are ill-suited to meet the strain placed on the grid by intense heat waves. For instance, on July 6, peak wind-energy production occurred at about midnight while solar photovoltaic production peaked at about 1:25 pm. Unfortunately, electricity demand peaked at about 45,000 megawatts at 5 pm and stayed at that level for the next two hours.

The sweltering heat kept electricity demand high. By 10 pm, demand was still over 40,000 megawatts. Of course, at that time, solar production was precisely zero and wind generation was less than 2,700 megawatts.

Renewable-energy proponents will surely argue that this problem can be solved by adding batteries to the California grid. Sure, batteries could help shift some renewable-energy output from one time of day to another. But adding enough battery storage — which in California’s case would amount to thousands of megawatt-hours of capacity — will mean additional costs for California beleaguered ratepayers, who already pay some of the highest residential rates in the continental U.S. Add in the fact that batteries perform poorly when the weather is too cold or too hot, and the challenge of electricity storage becomes more obvious.

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