Nobody likes a power outage. As the need for electric power grows, many of us are understandably concerned that California’s grid may be over-stressed and failures may be even more frequent. Grid resilience is a real issue, and it’s getting lots of expert attention these days.
In case of a power outage, solar panels paired with ample battery storage make an excellent backup. Fossil gas (so-called ‘natural’ gas), on the other hand, has no role to play in a safe, clean, resilient energy system. Extraction, transport, and combustion of fossil gas are a major factor in global climate change and a threat to human health—the sooner we stop using it, the better.
Yes we can do without fossil gas
Nevertheless, some say that we can’t do without fossil gas—that a ban on new gas infrastructure would grow demand for electricity too quickly, with dire results for the grid.
But fossil gas is simply not reliable or safe. Our state’s vast system of gas pipelines is in dangerously bad shape, as shown by the fatal 2010 explosion in San Bruno and the huge methane leak at Aliso Canyon in 2015.
Gas pipelines are a liability in natural disasters and extreme weather events. According to the California Energy Commission, many pipelines are vulnerable to the flooding and erosion caused by ‘atmospheric river’ storms. Earthquakes are an obvious problem. And for buildings threatened by wildfire, gas appliances are definitely not an asset.
Restoring electricity 30 times faster than turning on gas
Once the gas system is turned off during a disaster, restoring service takes about 30 times longer than restoring electricity. Residents are left without heat or hot water while the entire pipeline system is purged and checked and a service technician visits each home. In fact, PG&E supports the transition to all-electric energy infrastructure and plans to eventually dismantle the entire gas system.
Anyway, in any power failure these days, a gas-powered furnace, range, or water heater would likely be no help. Modern gas appliances generally don’t operate without electricity.
Bottom Line: Electricity Safer, cleaner, more resilient
The bottom line: we need an energy system that’s safe, clean, and resilient—and fossil gas is none of these things. The time for electrification is now.
This article first appeared in our March 2023 newsletter.