California Drought: How They Keep the Lights On

The state of California is plagued with a three-year drought and dwindling hydroelectric power, but it has managed to keep its lights on via other means such as natural gas, solar, and wind generation. As we’ve previously reported, the water shortage in California is reaching dire levels.

California’s Folsom Lake (pictured below), is currently at 17% of its usual capacity. Recent rain and snowstorms did little to give reprieve for the current harsh conditions, and made for more trouble with floodwaters and mini mudslides. The recent wet weather, though welcomed by residents, was hardly enough to make up for years of low precipitation.

Image courtesy of National Geographic

Though California is long known as a leader in hydroelectric power in the U.S., its production has declined rapidly and 2013 marked the lowest output since 1992. In response to the state’s energy crisis in 2001, new regulations require utility companies to figure in 15% reserve electricity to buffer their forecasted demand. This ensures that there is enough electricity supply to meet demand in a crisis situation.

National Geographic states,

But the state now has more options to take the place of hydro than it did in previous droughts. Importantly, a wave of wind and solar projects has swept the state. In 2013 alone, California’s renewable generating capacity increased by more than 20 percent with the addition of 3.3 gigawatts.

Solar initiatives, including the completion of the world’s largest solar power plant, have helped California reduce its dependency on hydroelectric generation. In the last 10 years, the state’s solar output has risen to 1.5% of California’s energy use from an average of 0.3%.

Wind energy and natural gas have also helped to soften the blow of hydroelectric shortage. Wind generation has risen from 2% to 5.2% over the last decade. Natural gas can always be relied on when the days aren’t sunny or windy. Natural gas provided Californians 46% of their electric use last year alone. While natural gas isn’t considered nearly as “green” as solar or wind, it’s a cheaper and a much cleaner option than coal production. In addition, the state relies on demand response programs as an extremely effective way to help stabilize the grid when other generation methods aren’t pulling their weight.

Unfortunately, the prediction for California’s drought ending anytime soon is not good. It’s hopeful, though, that these other electric options will hold the fort until the water levels come back and allow for hydroelectric power to resume generation.

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  • Chuck McEachern

    This is the true fruition of the government’s “green energy” power play. While the push toward “green” sources lines the friends’ pockets of certain left-leaning politicians, the real success for these politicians is when the sheeple dutifully revert to a medieval lifestyle to satisfy “mother Earth,” leaving the real benefits of the planet to the rich politicians and their friends.