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An article from the L.A. Times reveals that California’s increasing use of solar panels and wind farms is accompanied by a disturbing Catch-22. On days when these energy sources are thwarted by the weather, more reliable backup sources are needed. And more often than not, this means fossil fuels (especially natural gas) are used to fill the energy shortages caused by a large clouds or clear, breezeless days.This lack of reliability and consistency in solar and wind energy production necessitates the use of emergency backups – something that will only rise as California continues its transition to renewable energy sources.
California currently gets one-fifth of its energy from renewables, and looks to raise that to 33 per cent. According to the article, the state’s electricity costs are among the highest in the U.S. and “are projected to rise sharply in coming years.”
As its percentage of renewable production rises, the state will need more fossil fuels as reserve power sources:
The California Independent System Operator, the nonprofit company that runs the grid, estimates that by 2020 the state will need to double its reserve capacity. California now maintains a margin of 7% to 8% above projected daily demand, in case a nuclear power plant goes offline or outages occur. But when 33% of the state’s power comes from renewables, that margin will have to rise to 15%, said Stephen Berberich, the firm’s chief executive.
This reserve energy may be hard to come by. Natural gas plants in the state have come under attack by the California Water Quality Control Board, which has ordered 19 plants to close by 2020 because their intake pipes kill fish.