The state’s electric grid was experiencing rapid and unprecedented changes even before Pacific Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison began shutting off power to millions of people in a desperate scramble to prevent their transmission lines from sparking wildfires.
Solar and wind power were booming. Gas-fired power plants were shutting down. Investor-owned utility companies such as PG&E and Edison were being replaced by city-run alternatives. And the falling cost of lithium-ion batteries was making some households less reliant on the grid than ever before.
The changes will only accelerate in the coming years, as California ramps up efforts to fight climate change by cleaning up its energy supply.
But the state’s plans for slashing climate emissions depend on a stable electric grid delivering clean electricity to the cars, homes and businesses of the world’s fifth-largest economy. The jarring new reality of preemptive blackouts could frustrate those plans by throwing the grid’s reliability into doubt.
“The issue of reliability is really put front and center by the anxiety that people are starting to feel about their electrical system, even if they’re not subject to the blackouts,” said Michael Wara, a Stanford University professor who serves on a state commission on wildfire costs.