Monday, November 4, 2019

Lessons Learned from Power Outages in California and Quebec

Recent power outages in North America offer us an opportunity to reflect on the importance of reliable access to electricity. Extreme weather events are the leading cause of power outages. This includes storms that generate high winds and flooding, it is also due to drought that increase the likelihood of wildfires.

In October millions of people in California endured protracted power outages. This was due to  the largest ever voluntary blackout by Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E). The utility shut down power as a preventative measure to reduce the likelihood of wildfires sparked by downed power lines. In recent years California has experienced an increase in wildfires due to climate related heat and drought.

On the other side of the continent, people in Quebec have suffered from extreme weather including unprecedented flooding. At the beginning of November one million people were without power due to a windstorm that felled trees and downed power lines. For hundreds of thousands this outage lasted for days as temperatures hovered around the freezing point.

Thousands of people in both California and Quebec turned to gas powered generators during the outage.  Although some may say that these outages prove the importance of oil and gas as reliable sources of power, the truth is that fossil fuel based power generation is a leading cause of greenhouse gases which drive climate change related extreme weather events that result in power outages.Oil and gas based power generation also contributes to air pollution.

Renewable sources of power are not only cleaner they are more dependable than fossil fuels. While it is true that you cannot generate solar electricity while the sun is not shining or the wind power when the wind is not blowing, this is resolved through rapidly evolving increasingly inexpensive battery storage technology.

Extreme weather events support the case for locally generated clean power. Distributed renewable energy is not only cleaner than fossil fuels it is a far more reliable power source. Locally generated renewable energy is a critical adaptation that contributes to increased resilience and mitigates against climate change. Homes and businesses that generate power locally don't rely on electrical power grids and thus they are not be subject to outages from downed power lines.

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