Lifted from comments, reader likbez alerts us to this issue:
In the meantime happening live in the USA but hardly on this blog…
US has more power outages than any other !!! developed country. Our grid is outdated and rundown, but utilities aren’t willing to do much about it… oops (Generator-Industries bribes, lol ??!!)
Just a technical note: building a distribution network may be a more flexible task than most might expect. The beauty of transmitting electric power is that the higher you pump the voltage the lower the current becomes. IOW, if your transformer converts 120 volts into 12, 000 volts, 20 amps of current drops to .2 amps — making almost unlimited amounts of power able to be transmitted without building matching line for line like with water or oil. Somewhere in the USA there is a power line operating at 750,000 volts! Just saying.
A natural monopoly without close public supervision is like Hamlet without the Prince. Economic rents pursued within natural monopoly frameworks create bizarre inversions of incentives. The denser the market then the higher the profits and the more reason there is to invest in production capacity instead of distribution availability and redundancy. Sell more, fail more. Where are your customers going to go for power? Fail-over protection is expensive and does not generate new revenues.
Dominion Energy Virginia has found that sophisticated distribution networks with automatic switching and rerouting are much cheaper than burying lines already on poles. They have done a very good job because the cost of damage repairs is less quickly recovered here with our lower distribution density than in the Northeast, where outages can last for weeks. By reducing outages where it is most cost effective then repair resources can be dedicated to large area outages beyond the scope of simple automatic switching.
Top Areas by Outages
South Carolina 12,125
Iowa and South Carolina need fixing. California has fires and heat, there is no simple grid fix for that.
In the aftermath of last week’s horrible derecho, which the national media virtually ignored, Iowa didn’t deserve this:
“Iowa helped foist Trump on us… I guess God’s Wrath is really a thing.”
“Heard but don’t care.”
“You get what you sow.”
And as for the national media mostly ignoring you? “Suck it up.”
Are we going to underground wiring to prevent storm damage?
“In the aftermath of last week’s horrible derecho, which the national media virtually ignored…”
The matter of media coverage of the fierce storm and aftermath in Iowa has already been raised. Importantly, the New York Times had covered the Iowa disaster with 5 full articles, beginning August 10 on the day of the storm and continuing to August 18 when I stopped counting.
Paul Krugman began writing about the problem of electricity supply in California in 2000:
December 10, 2000
By Paul Krugman
December 31, 2000
Real Reality’s Revenge
By Paul Krugman
A natural monopoly without close public supervision is like Hamlet without the Prince. Economic rents pursued within natural monopoly frameworks create bizarre inversions of incentives. The denser the market then the higher the profits and the more reason there is to invest in production capacity instead of distribution availability and redundancy. Sell more, fail more. Where are your customers going to go for power? Fail-over protection is expensive and does not generate new revenues….
[ Nicely done. ]
August 20, 2020
Poor Planning Left California Short of Electricity in a Heat Wave
Scores of power plants were down or operating below their capacity just as hot weather drove up demand.
By Ivan Penn
Knowing that the fierce Iowa storm was covered in at least the New York Times, is important. There were 9 full articles on the storm and aftermath in the Times from August 10 to August 18.
December 10, 2000
By Paul Krugman
California’s deregulated power industry, in which producers can sell electricity for whatever the traffic will bear, was supposed to deliver cheaper, cleaner power. But instead the state faces an electricity shortage so severe that the governor has turned off the lights on the official Christmas tree — a shortage that has proved highly profitable to power companies, and raised suspicions of market manipulation.
The experience raises questions about deregulation. And more broadly, it is a warning about the dangers of placing blind faith in markets.
True, part of California’s problem is an unexpected surge in electricity demand, the byproduct of a booming economy. It’s possible that the crisis would have happened even without deregulation.
But probably not. In the bad old days, monopolistic power companies were guaranteed a good profit even if their industry had excess capacity. So they built more capacity than they needed, enough to meet even unexpectedly high demand. But in the deregulated market, where prices fluctuate constantly, companies knew that if they over-invested, prices and profits would plunge. So they were reluctant to build new plants — which is why unexpectedly strong demand has led to shortages and soaring prices.
Now you could say that in the long run there is nothing wrong with that. Building extra generating capacity was costly, and the costs were passed on to consumers; while prices may fluctuate in a system with less slack, on average consumers will pay less. In fact, textbook economics suggests that it’s actually a good thing that electricity prices skyrocket when supply runs short: that’s what gives the power companies an incentive to invest. And so you could argue that no public intervention is warranted — indeed, that the caps that still place an upper limit on electricity prices only worsen the problem, that we should rely on market competition to solve the crisis.
But how competitive is the electricity market? What makes California’s power crisis politically explosive is the suspicion that it’s not just about inadequate capacity, but also about artificially inflated prices.
How might market manipulation work? Suppose that it’s a hot July, with air-conditioners across the state running full blast and the power industry near the limits of its capacity. If some of that capacity suddenly went off line for whatever reason, the resulting shortage would send wholesale electricity prices sky high. So a large producer could actually increase its profits by inventing technical problems that shut down some of its generators, thereby driving up the price it gets on its remaining output.
Does this really happen? A recent National Bureau of Economic Research working paper * by Severin Borenstein, James Bushnell and Frank Wolak cites evidence that exactly this kind of market manipulation took place in Britain before 1996 and in California during the summers of 1998 and 1999.
You wouldn’t normally expect this to happen in colder months, when demand is lower. Still, state officials have understandably become suspicious about California’s current power emergency — an emergency precipitated by the odd fact that about a quarter of the state’s generating capacity is off line as the result of either scheduled repairs or breakdowns.
Maybe California power companies aren’t rigging electricity prices. But they clearly have both the means and the incentive to do so — and you have to wonder why the deregulators didn’t worry about this, why they didn’t ask seemingly obvious questions about whether the market they proposed to create would really work as advertised.
And maybe that is the broader lesson of the debacle: Don’t rush into a market solution when there are serious questions about whether the market will work. Both economic analysis and British experience should have rung warning bells about California’s deregulation scheme; but those warnings were ignored — just as similar warnings are being ignored by enthusiasts for market solutions for everything from prescription drug coverage to education.
Over 500 wildfires raging
in tinder-dry California.
This is said to be because
they are not doing enuf raking.
‘It’s Hard to See Your Memories Burn’: Loss From Wildfires Grows in California
NY Times – August 21
… From the Southern California deserts to the Sierra Nevada to the vineyards and movie sets and architectural landmarks left by modern mortals, little of the state has been left unscathed by wildfire. In the past several years, infernos have scorched the Yosemite National Park, blackened the Joshua Tree National Park’s palm-strewn Oasis of Mara, damaged the Paramount Ranch and eviscerated Malibu summer camps beloved for generations.
Scars now pockmark the state, with more to come, according to fire officials. Burning across more than 771,000 acres, this week’s fires have largely stemmed from an extraordinary spate of dry lightning. As of Friday, there were some 560 blazes, about two dozen of them major.
Trump on California wildfires
‘You got to get rid of the leaves’
… Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office said Thursday that the state had been granted FEMA aid “to help ensure the availability of vital resources” to fight California’s latest blazes.
Trump’s assessment of the problem has been disputed by many forestry experts in the past. While clearing forests of heavy timber, including logging, would help reduce the fire threat in some places, many of California’s most disastrous recent fires have been in grasslands and on oak-studded hillsides. The loss of life property has been worsened because development has spread in fire-prone areas.
Climate change is another factor. In April, scientists at Columbia University, the University of Colorado, University of Idaho concluded that California and the rest of the American West had entered a prolonged period of drought in which fewer wet years will break up long dry stretches.
In taped comments delivered just before the start of the Democratic National Convention, Newsom said, “Mother Nature has now joined in this conversation around climate change, and so we too need to advance that conversation anew.”
He added, “Just today, the president of the United States threatened the state of California … to defund our efforts on wildfire suppression because he says we haven’t raked enough leaves. You can’t make that up.” …
(It’s long been known that
excess brush does make
for many wildfires.)
US Interior Department
The fuels program supports the strategic removal of grasses, shrubs, and trees to restore and maintain ecosystems and limit the negative impacts of wildfires.
… Wildland fires can be devastating, but not all fire is bad. Fire plays a natural and necessary role in many landscapes. Periodic low-intensity fires speed up the process of forest decomposition, create open patches for new plants to grow, improve habitat and food for animals and deliver nutrients to the plants that survive. Some research indicates fire may also improve ground water recharge and water flow to aquatic habitats. They build resilience to fires by reducing immature trees, brush, dead branches and limbs (a.k.a. ladder fuels) and creating a mosaic of burned, partially-burned, and unburned areas (which makes it less likely that future fires will torch an entire landscape). …
Also, US has more tornadoes than any other country along with more tropical cyclones than all but China, Philippines, and Japan.