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Power Shortages And Tech Industry 356

TheGeneration writes: "Power shortages in San Francisco, and Silicon Valley have caused power providers to demand that Intel and other tech industry biggies to use less power. Things may get bad enough that rolling blackouts have been warned. The story is reported by the AP. "
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Power Shortages And Tech Industry

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  • News article [sfgate.com] and analysis [sfgate.com] of what happened last night.

    My take on this is that CA massively fucked up deregulation, by establishing perverse incentives to reduce capacity and/or manipulate pricing, combined with strong disincentives to establish new capacity. The ISO is trying mightily to keep the network running, but customers are getting crappy service.

    I'm a pretty serious capitalist, but I must say that the LA Dept. of Water and Power [ladwp.com] is looking pretty good right now (their role in Tank Girl notwithstanding!)

  • 1. You don't understand, the current crop of politicians count the protesters as one of their core constituencies. Seriously enforcing the law would deprive them of votes and lead to a weakened political position in the next election.

    2. The engineering problems with that are tremendous and the permits necessary to do such heavy modifications are mind-boggling. It isn't going to happen.

    3. You are offering a false choice. The true choice in your situation is sporadic v. sporadic and history is on the side of local positioning of the company's servers being more reliable.

  • The fun thing is that a lot of high tech companies don't use UPSes or tape backups for a _lot_ of their systems. Especially lab/R&D type stuff. Rolling blackouts could cause some ugliness for a lot of companies if data gets lost because of this.
  • Heh. Sure, blame one small organization for ruining it for the rest of us. No, we're all to blame...

    We want all the conveniences of life (which now days requires even more power every year) but we don't want the side effects. Basically as individuals we're promoting a selfish version of what the greens want: less pollution, but only in Our Back Yard. Some other guy's Back Yard? Might as well be glowing green for all I care, right?

    Who seems to be using more common sense here?
  • by Bad_CRC ( 137146 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @07:36AM (#571912)
    shut down intel so that betty and goober can have 15,000 christmas lights on their house.

    the problem isn't big companies, they aren't using more power than they usually do, and they are the ones who carry the brunt of the cost of running power plants.

    penalize people who are wasting all the electricity on decorations before shutting down industry. People can find other less-wasteful ways to be creative for the holidays.


  • It just goes to show that if you partially deregulate, things can get worse instead of better. They have politically slowed down the construction of new electrical generation capacity so much that blackouts became an inevitability.

    They need to make it easier to add capacity to the system so higher prices will generate new entrants to the market.

    Maybe those powerplug (GE labelled) generators are going to save the day but first they have to get through this year without stupid legislation rolling California fully back to a command and control system

  • People are afraid of what they don't understand. Most people do not understand nuclear power and the first thing they associate with the word "nuclear" is a mushroom cloud. Hence the fear that a reactor can somehow explode like an A-bomb, which is in practice impossible.

    In fact a coal power plant releases more radioactive stuff than a nuclear plant, because there is a lot of uranium in coal, that gets released as soot after burning the coal. During normal operation a nuclear plant releases only heat that escapes from the heat exchangers and may be some water vapor. Of course there is spent fuel that has to be taken care of after it's been used, but this is much better than carbon dioxide that is released by coal and petroleum and causes greenhouse effect.
  • The solution to California's power problems?

    Electricity Over IP [ietf.org].

    All the state needs to do is hack into some of New Jersey's many Nuclear or trash burning power plants and everyone can have lights on their house for Christmas and Intel can continue to make faulty chips.

  • Yes! Mod up the above post, it's not a troll, it's the truth.

    In the early 1990's more than 20% of the electricity in the US was generated by nuclear power. However, because of the no-nukes crowd, no new nuclear power plants have been commisioned since the mid-80's. Currently, many of the older plants have reached the end of their intended lifetimes and are scheduled to shut down in the near future.

    The only viable alternatives for replacing these nuclear power plants are fossil fuel based plants. At the present time renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power are not sufficient to meet the nation's (or even California's) energy needs. Furthermore they are unreliable (no solar on cloudy days or at night). Hydrogen fuel cells are not a viable solution because it requires more energy to produce the Hydrogen than can be produced from the hydrogen.

    The problem with replacing nuclear power plants with fossil fuel based power plants is that the fossil fuel based plants are killing the environment. All contribute to global warming. Coal based plants produce acid rain, NOx, SOx and particulates. Even the cleanest natural gas based plants contribute to global warming.

    Also, natural gas is relatively expensive compared to other fossil fuels and natural gas reserves are limitted. In fact California's current electricity supply problems are partially due to the limitted supply of natural gas.

    Basically, by replacing nuclear power plants with fossil fuel based plants we are exchanging a safe source of power for a dangerous source of power. That's right! Fossil fuel based power is destroying the world. Nuclear power is relatively safe by comparison. In the US there have been no significant nuclear accidents that have threatened the lives and health of the surrounding population even after 40 years of nuclear power generation. By contrast thousands and possibly hundreds of thousands of people living near coal-fired power plants have suffered from asthma and other lung-diseases due to the pollution.

    Of course there have been accidents at nuclear facilities, including severe accidents in some foreign countries. However, in all cases the nuclear accidents resulted from inherently flawed reactor designs and negligence. Nuclear reactors can be operated safely and the wastes, which are relatively small can be disposed of safely. Over 40 years of safe production of nuclear power in the US proves that we should not allow the scare-tactics of a vocal minority to scare us away from nuclear power.
  • NIMBY or not, according to the local puc , or wahtever they are calling themselves under deregulation, the extra load that christmas lights represent equals 1000MW, so in fact on 500MW plant will power only about half the xmas lights here in northern california. That is why they've asked people to hold off till 7pm to turn em on.

    These sorts of austerity measures aren't anything new to California, as anyone who's visited during drought years can attest.

    That said, is it really that important that Las Vegas uses so many damn lights during the power crunch?

    Bah Humbug....

    Chris DiBona
    Grant Chair, Linux Int.
    Pres, SVLUG

  • Low power consumption has not been a goal in recent years, especially in regard to the computer industry. A few years ago, a power supply for a top of the line machine was 200W. Now we're seeing 450W. The Voodoo 5 from 3dfx even comes with an external power supply, because it draws too much power for an AGP slot.

    Yes, the article is talking about industrial power usage, but it sure would be nice for low power consumption to filter down thoughout the PC world. The big speed increases we've been seeing lately aren't coming for free. We just jack up the transistor count and die size and get performance in return. That's on par with putting a 16 cylinder engine in a car. Of *course* it will be faster, but there's more to cars than raw horsepower, you know?

    Personally, I think low power and reliability should be the two goals for the computing industry. Does a secretary really need an 800MHz Athlon? Do students? Heck, I've done commercial game development with much, much less than that.
  • 5:15 PM it's dark here tho!

    The big draw tho, is multiply the following by about 500,000 or more:

    Get home, open door turn on lights

    Turn on TV (presumably to watch the talking heads discuss looming power crisis)

    Turn on PC, dial up ISP, start downloading email

    Go to the bathroom, turn on light, drain the vein or pinch a loaf, wash up

    Turn on kitchen light, fire up the range or nuke oven, cook dinner

    Turn on dining room light, eat dinner (or in front of TV or computer or whever the hell the nuclear family eats dinner now)

    It does add up, particularly if you're one of the civic minded types with an animatronic Santa or 500 watts of lights around your abode.


  • One thing to keep in mind, if you are a large company and are willing to cut down when asked, or even cut to generators in time of extreme need, you get a better price for your power.

    Chris DiBona

    Grant Chair, Linux Int.
    Pres, SVLUG

  • The answer? More goddamn power plants. Solar, nuclear, tidal, I don't care, but put them in, put them in service.
    Tell me something: How does this prevent shortages and blackouts when it gets cloudy, you've got a neap tide, the nukes are down for fuel exchange, and you've got a demand spike?

    The demand spike alone is enough. The real problem is that there is no market in electricity at the consumer level. In general, people pay one rate per KWH regardless of time-of-day or state of the grid, and anyone can tell you that a KWH at 4 PM on a scorcher is worth a lot more than a KWH at 3 AM on any day of the year. But people pay no more for the 4 PM KWH, and they have no incentive to shift their demand to 3 AM.

    There's a huge problem with lack of infrastructure, and I don't mean turbines and wires and transformers. The infrastructure that's lacking is the market at the consumer level, and the information technology required to support it. People can and do drive around until they see gasoline at an acceptably low price, but they have no way to put the dishwasher on standby until the price of electricity is reasonable. You could make a huge dent in your peak-hour electic consumption if you had an air-conditioner that froze water overnight and cooled your house with the ice during the day, but if your electric meter can't distinguish (or just as badly, can't tell you) the difference between a 4 PM and 3 AM kilowatt-hour, you have no way to benefit from this. The consumer could make a big cut in the capital costs of the grid, but the consumer has no way to reap the benefits even if they'd pay for the hardware. This is a failure of the market: the pricing information is not getting where it needs to go.

    The power companies probably don't want this to happen. If people could actually be full participants in the market, they could sell power as well as buying it. They could stuff KWH into batteries overnight and try to make a profit by selling back to the grid during the day, and you'd see lots of guerilla solar [homepower.com] installations (except they wouldn't be guerillas any more). You'd see lots of people running co-generators, and the real sophisticates would be doing things like burning natural gas to re-heat their water tanks between 3 PM and 8 PM while selling the electricity, and running off the grid for electricity the rest of the day. If electricity was a quarter a KWH, you could make a rather tidy profit off your hot water heater. But none of this can happen unless and until there is a real, minute-by-minute market in electric power where everyone can participate, and you know who's not going to let that happen.
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  • Nobody has guaranteed your lights won't go out (well, maybe your local power provider). Nowhere in your Constitution does it say that you have the right to turn on as many lights as you want. You have the right to puruse happiness, but do you REALLY believe that should be at all expenses?

    Power is not free - especially in the environmental sense. And you know what? Those pollutants that are the byproduct of your precious power go everywhere. And you don't have the right to pollute MY backyard.

    But instead of being snippy and berating your skewed viewpoint, I'll offer some constructive suggestions:

    1. Keep your freezer full. When your refridgerator freezer is as full as it can be, it's much more efficient. And 30% of all your household energy goes to your fridge. So stock it up and keep it that way. Even just having bags of ice to use up the empty space will help.
    2. Get energy-efficient bulbs, timers, and motion sensors. There are easy, fairly inexpensive ways to reduce the amount of energy your lights consume. Try it.
    3. Power off. Your computer (unless running a webserver or something like that) doesn't need to stay on 24-7. Yes, heat cycling is what kills it, but are you really going to keep it for 5 years?? No, you're going to upgrade anyways, so a few extra hundred heat cycles isn't going to hurt you.
    4. Turn your monitor off. It sucks up the most power of your system anyways, so turn it off if you're away from your desk. Especially if you leave your box on all the time.
    5. Ditch your CRT and get a flatscreen. Consumes WAY less power, take up less real estate, easier on your eyes, way cooler... nuff said.
    6. Buy window blinds. Believe it or not, blinds can make a HUGE difference in heating/cooling a house. With them, they keep out extra light and energy, so you don't have to cool your house as much. In cold areas (like where I am) they actually act as another insulation layer, keeping more heat inside your room. Home Depot has some paper temporary blinds for about $6 that will do the trick for windows you don't look out all the time. Otherwise mini blinds are cheap too.
    7. Buy some carpet, or slippers. Don't crank your thermostat if your feet are cold - heating the air won't warm up your floor (or toes) much anyway.
    8. Have more sex. All the lights out, and you're generating your own heat. Need I say more?

  • According to the DOE, in 1998 California had a maximum electricity production capacity of 44,492 MW. In 1999 it had dropped to 30,952 MW. Peak demand this summer was in the neighborhood of 45,000 MW.

    As a condition of deregulation, the California legislature placed a price cap on electricity producers at about $250 per megawatt. If, due to the high price of natural gas for instance, it costs $300 per megawatt to produce electricity at a particular plant, that plant will be shut down.
  • by jmichaelg ( 148257 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @09:29AM (#571943) Journal
    (nobody had the foresight to sign long-term deals, locking in prices).

    PG&E was prohibited by the PUC from signing long term contracts because there was a period where spot prices tended to be lower than long-term prices. The PUC never took into account that they were looking at an aberation in pricing and that the situation might change.

    Another factor taking plants offline is they've reached their pollution allowance for the year.

    The Christmas lights aren't blameless. The State Christmas Tree in Sacramento eats 25KW. I live in a neighborhood where a lot of my neighbor's electricity bill jumps between 20-100% The homeowner's association sponsors an annual christmas competition and more than a few of my neighbors go all out in an attempt to win a dinner for two. Just suggesting that maybe they hold off till 7 before they light up is considered Grinchiness.

    "We're between the dog and the fire hydrant." - Florida Senator King

  • > Similarly, there's a town on the central > coast whose name completely escapes me who is
    > vigorously fighting a plan by the local PP
    > owner to remove the existing (BIG) plant, and
    > replace it with a smaller,lower-profile plant.
    > The locals have decided they want it replaced
    > with a bare lot. Another 500MW of capacity lost.

    The city is Morro Bay and the local PP owner is Duke Electricity. Yes the town is opposing the plan. The current plant has caused a measurable deterioration of the air quality of the town.

    The new plant has shorter stacks which will concentrate the pollutants in the town even further. That is combined with the stacks disrupting the scenic coast (Morro Bay is on the Pacific Ocean) which hurts tourism.

    Loss of tourism $ + Cost of public health + Cost of environmental cleanup > Income from new plant

    Simple equation, NIMBY my ass.
  • We've got more power than we know what to do with up here. Hell, we sell most of it to the USA. Why not relocate some of the plants up here, and then the local governments can lament the NIMBY phenonomon when they don't have the growth in the local economy and the corresponding tax revenue that these companies provide?

    That said.. people need to accept that if they're not going to look at techniques for affordable power generation other than coal and oil - specifically, nuclear technologies, solar power, and the best and baddest, hydroelectric and the corresponding impact on whatever you're damming up - there's going to be (real) economic impacts. I never understood why more people didn't look at geothermal power.. Lots of heat in the earth's core to tap. Although, people will probably whine about that, too.

    Or, you can just pay more. Heh. Help out that Canadian trade defict!

  • Actually, the problem is that plants are unexpectedly dropping off the grid, lowering capacity. The most recent 500MW plant to drop out powers a heck of a lot of christmas lights.
    The local news had a blurb about this last month. A gov't official noted that capacity was going to drop during the winter months since private power plants take their generators down during this time for maintenance. She then went on to claim that these companies do not coordinate their efforts, thus causing undue hardships on the local power grid. She then made a comment along the lines of "this is what you get when you deregulate power".
  • Most home users of Win Boxen shut them off after checking the email. Unix Boxen tend to be left on 24 X 7. Someting to think about. I am serious. This is not intended as flaimbait but as a statement of how they are used. Win users either Suspend or shutdown when done. Nix users just logoff and do not Shutdown or Halt.
  • by Tower ( 37395 )
    'Pretty Soon', huh? That's in geologic time... or do I have to worry about buying a sweater for my friend in S.D. sometime next year?

  • The new plant has shorter stacks which will concentrate the pollutants in the town even further.

    What do you want, a purpose built power plant or lots of people running diesel fired peaking generators to satisfy curtailment policies that are a requirement of industrial surplus pricing? When you run a small manufacturing plant that requires 3 megawatts for continuous operations, shutting down during peak times is not an option as this causes lots of scrap for landfills. Peaking generators that keep plants running during blackout conditions are a magnitude more expensive and create local pollution right next to your back yard. They are used or many people wouldn't have a job.

    The cost of electricity is a major cost in manufacturing plants. Expect jobs to move where electricity is cheap. Two power plants are under construction 20 miles from where I live. Property values have doubled each year for the least three years. If California does not open up new plants soon, expect a return to farming and desert life.

    I love the sound of 2800 horsepower twin turbocharged CAT generators hammering the pistons away, but let's leave the job of power generation to the power companies.
  • by jafac ( 1449 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @11:40AM (#571967) Homepage
    A mushroom cloud is not the first thing most people think about. The first thing most people think about is Hanford.


    Coal-burning, is also majorly unacceptable to most environmentalists. And they may release clouds of radioactive stuff into the atmosphere, but they don't make entire regions unlivable for millions of years. It's not the plants mostly, it's the fuel production, transportation, and waste storage that is so terrifyingly vexing. If you're not afraid of that, then why don't you go buy a house in Richland, WA? Take a swim in the Columbia river? Got Strontium-90?

    Personally, and I think that a lot of /.-ers would agree with me, we should take the US Govt. budget surplus, and probably all of NASA's budget, and probably half of other government programs, and sink it into serious Fusion power research. We can explore space later, but if we don't fix our power problems now, there won't BE a later. Think how much we could invest in NASA programs (and other programs) later, if we didn't have to go fight a war every time OPEC got uppity, or didn't have to clean up oil spills, or didn't have to watch the stock market and the economy spin into recession every time oil speculators got anxious. I know this is oversimplification, and there would be more ramifications than simply putting some "nice projects" on hold. But frankly, when you think about it, if Fusion is possible, that's about the only thing that will ensure mankind's survival 100 years henceforth. Any other scenario is pretty grim.

    Of course that will never happen if we keep electing oil barons into the presidency (both Gore AND Bush).
  • "..And he is us" - Walt Kelly's Pogo Possum

    One thing has bugged me in the past few years. The US had energy shortages, high energy prices for years back in the 70's. We learned to make autos and homes more energy efficient. Ironically, people seem to have adopted the belief that everything is so much more efficient that you can now have more of it. Fuel efficient cars became SUV's, 65F became 65F in bigger houses (more volume), energy efficient ovens and ranges became & a microwave & an espresso machine, all putting us back where we were, using the same amount of power and now there's more of us. We're our own best enemies. NIMBY, indeed.

    BTW, I paid $28.00 for my gas and electric for a townhouse apartment for the last month, half the nights running the furnace for a few degrees of warmth. I'm not the most concientious, I leave lights on in other rooms, the TV blathering away while I surf the web upstairs. I could reduce my consumption down to about $20.00 a month if I push it. That's with using the range twice a day, too. Consider that that's for November and I read about all the whiners pissing and moaning about how their energy bills doubled in southern California (I'm Central Coast.) S'cuse me while I get out some tweezers and the world's tiniest violin. I used to live in the Great White North (eh!) of Michigan, where you weren't getting things down if you didn't spend at least $100 a month on gas and electric for a house. More likely well over that, my parents spend close to $200 a month back in Michigan. So, southern California, just shut up, ok?


  • by El_Che ( 161286 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @09:48AM (#571973) Homepage
    Not sure the figure given in the second point (US$250/MW) is accurate: The LA Times reported this morning that CAL-ISO (California Independent System Operator, the wholesaler or market-maker) was trying to purchase juice from a BC hydro-plant at US$1000/MW, 4x normal price. The BC plant refused to sell to Cal-ISO because CAL-ISO had reached it's credit limit with the company(!!). San Diego Edison (?) stepped in and made the purchase (at US$1000/MW) for the system as a whole, thus averting rolling blackouts.

    BTW: Edison (and PG&E, et al) have been eating the difference between what they pay to buy power from Cal-ISO and what consumers are willing to pay, enforced by governmental authorities in the form rate-caps. These rate-caps are basically those instituted as part of the transition to a de-regulated market. Edison claims US$3 Billion is owed it as result of the difference (and only since last summer!).

    As I ranted to my pair-bond last night (as we walked the (still) well-lit sidewalks of Long Beach, CA -- part of the de-regulated market)): How's it possible that here in the richest region, of the richest state, of the wealthiest nation in the history of the fscking world we're ducking our heads and waiting for a Rolling Blackout? This may be SOP for the Third & Second world, esp those places that haven't fully tossed off the chains of Socialism, but this ain't fscking Havana! If the Free-market can't deliver the goods, what's it good for?

    Face it: Cali De-regulation hasn't worked thus far. However, Socialist power up in Los Angeles (via a municipal utility, the DWP) has been awfully successful: Their rates are due to go down 10% next year, and they've made a killing selling excess juice to CAL-ISO, so much in fact they'll be able to replace a real dirty coal-fired plant in Nevada with alternatives (NG) much sooner than planned.

    Of course, we all know the free-market is not doing well in this case because it isn't free-market enough...

  • RE GE and making "stuff" - The spun most of that off last year, back into a company called Westinghouse

  • I haven't read the essay by Mr. Hogan. I will say that most claims that I've seen about the cost of nuclear power plants does not take into consideration decomissioning. They're hideously expensive to decomission as the highly radioactive areas cannot be dismantled in an ordinary manner. Transportation of these parts is troublesome, and so is storage and disposal.
  • Wind turbines environmentally friendly? ROTFL! Assuming you like to eat ground eagle and ground buzzard meat for dinner. Windmills kill birds.

    Skyscrapers kill birds.

    Airplanes kill birds.

    Hunters kill birds.

    But you know what kills the most birds of all? The car sitting in your driveway, and millions of others just like it.

    If you want to go to the site of the bloodiest bird holocaust in the country, go check out your local expressway. When you're ready to give up motorized transportation, then maybe I'll be ready to listen to your "wind turbines are bad for the birds" rallying cry without doubling over in laughter.
  • Regardless of "big business" the reality is 8 years of environmentally obsessed democrats have depleted the natural gas supply to a point where there isn't enough to run the generators. Then of course, there's the "2 power plants taken off line for repairs" line handed to the politicians to lobby for rate hikes but the same problem is occurring in many other states right now who have fully functional power plants. They just don't have the fuel to run them.
  • The parent post appears to be karma whoring, IMHO. There was obviously no research done before .

    As an employee of one of California's electric utilities, let me fill you in on a few facts:

    1) The government has little or nothing to do with providing the citizens of CA with electricity. Yes, the industry was recently deregulated, but even before that the electric utilities were publicly owned companies. The government simply regulated the prices that the utilities were allowed to charge, due to the implicit monopoly power that a utility normally has.

    2) There are many reasons for the current power shortage, among them: a cold snap in the Midwest has limited the amount of power that can be imported from that region; many power plants are undergoing maintenance, since we beat the hell out of them this summer; still other power plants are out of service because they have exceeded their allowed amount of noxious emmissions.

    3) Have you ever filed to build a power plant? This process takes years. CA's population growth in recent years has exceeded all estimates, and is growing at a much faster rate than the power supply.

    4) Deregulation took place just a couple of years ago. During the transition period, companies were reluctant to commit to building power plants due to market uncertainty. There are several plants in various stages of development, but most won't come on line until 2002 at the earliest.

    5) A previous poster noted that the large customers that have been asked to shut down did indeed sign up for this, although nobody expected them to have to do this almost 30 times this year. However, they do receive reduced rates throughout the year as compensation.

    6) The utilities own a very small fraction of the power production. As part of deregulation, the utilities were required by state law to divest themselves of their production capability (with a few exceptions, such as nuclear generation). CA has little control over the actions of the companies that are currently responsible for running the plants, and we are in the midst of discovering that this is a bad thing. Your precious capitalists are screwing over the rest of CA by withholding generation in order to drive up prices.

    I'm disappointed in the /. moderators for moding up the parent post. I hope I've shed some light on what's really happening here.


  • Meters which can charge differently by time have been available for decades in other parts of the world.
    And a binary peak/off-peak distinction gets you where? How does it help you incrementally shed load when power reserves keep falling? Are any of these meters going to give you enough information to decide when to start your co-generator? Will they collect enough information to get the billing (or credit) right when you've generated more than you've consumed?

    There's a whole bunch of issues there that need to be addressed.
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  • They do in SimCity 2000... ;)

  • The eco-whackos who don't want new power plants are at fault. As people aquire and deploy more technological devices their electrical power requirements go up. The technophobes who fight tooth and nail against any type of new power plant are the ones at fault when they output of the powerplants doesn't meet the demand of the customers.

    I'm no big Intel fan. However it's not fair to threaten them with blackouts if they don't lower their power consumption. Intel is a big employer. If you hurt Intel you hurt the families of it's employees and indirectly many of the tech companies that have publicly traded stock.

  • Yes, PG&E had to shutdown plans that hit air pollution limits. How is that their fault? They had to keep them running at a higher capaciy in order to keep up with the higher demand.

    The problem is, absolutely and 100%, the influx of tech companies. It takes years to bring new power plants online, and the demand for electricity has increased much faster than they expected a few years ago when they were deciding how many plants they'd need to have running by the end of 2000.

    They've even brought in portable plants via ship, and it still hasn't been enough. When you've got several years of lead time before you can really bring more power to the grid, and a sudden, unexpected influx of tech companies, no one on earth could prevent the shortages that have occured.

  • Could't Intel argue they will be using 50% less power in 18 months or so?
  • It seems clear that the power companies, who of course have a monopoloy, are not fulfilling their social duty to supply power to those who need it. Companies shouldn't need to build their own power stations to get power. It should be supplied as needed, and if there is not enough it should be imported. How can they demand these companies to reduce the usage the lifeblood of the ecocomy? This is very clearly wrong.

    This is one of the few reasons I can be glad I live in a socialist country, I suppose. No one is going to cut off my electricity.

    But every system has its drawbacks, I suppose.

    KTB:Lover, Poet, Artiste, Aesthete, Programmer.

  • Actually, the problem is that plants are unexpectedly dropping off the grid, lowering capacity. The most recent 500MW plant to drop out powers a heck of a lot of christmas lights.

    The problem, fundamentally, isn't extra load, it's the political system that doesn't let new powerplants pop up as needed. NIMBY is alive and well and it will probably take localized, quiet fuel cell generators to fix this problem. NIMBY doesn't care about what it doesn't notice.

  • by foaty ( 262072 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @10:12AM (#572019)

    The problems in California are solvable and solvable in a renewable way. The technology exists, but people have to downsize their power requirements or move to localised power generation.

    To release more power for industry, houses could reduce their power requirements to less than 5% present values as illustrated by Huf Haus [futureenergies.com] and Dr Susan Roaf [futureenergies.com]

    Taking this theme further, why not get rid of the bureacracy required to put power into the grid. Solar Guerillas [futureenergies.com] are acting illegally in contributing green power back into the grid.

    In England, forward thinking Dot Com companies [futureenergies.com] are using Solar power to powerer their buildings and how many hours of sunlight do we get compared to California?

    And when there is not enough sun (in California??) there are certainly waves [futureenergies.com]

    There is an online magazine that charts all renewable power sources, from hydro to solar to biomass. Check it out at http://www.FutureEnergies.com/ [futureenergies.com].

    Gordon Foat

  • by Dr.Dubious DDQ ( 11968 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @08:54AM (#572020) Homepage
    Summer is when we typically have our "power crunch"

    As a fellow Californian (Oh, 'scuze me, I mean "a fellow Californian, Dude"), I've been wondering the same things you are. I know MY power consumption in winter goes down to about 1/3 of what it was in the summer (and that's just to keep the apartment down to around 80F!)

    I concur, this sounds "manufactured" to me, as well.

    A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for Evil.
  • by swerdloff ( 16397 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @08:54AM (#572021) Homepage
    My girlfriend's father tried to do this. The New York Times wrote a big article on it - he wanted to run a mill and produce electricity that way. Power his own home. That was it. Great big fight with the regulatory agencies involved in New York state. He didn't even wanna put it on the grid, just run it into his own home.
  • Of course, it won't be much longer and we'll be able to tell the power companies to piss off. Remember this [slashdot.org] story from a while back? I'll be the first on my block to live "off the grid".
  • It's not normal operation that people are afraid of. It's the idea that something that could render a good sized chunk of land uninhabitable for centurys is being run by the same corperate mentality that decided the wrongful death suits would be cheaper than a strip of rubber in the new Pinto.

  • penalize people who are wasting all the electricity on decorations before shutting down industry. People can find other less-wasteful ways to be creative for the holidays.

    Please start conserving enery by shutting off your own computer. Thank you. Have a nice day.
  • Yes, they will. Not everyone has a UPS. Also, when the blackouts are over, the demand will presumably be less, so this won't matter as much. Remember that rolling blackouts are only needed at peak utilization times, and when utilization is below peak, there's capacity available to meet this increased demand.
  • One of the jokes I told in high school was that, one of these days, PG&E will no longer supply power. When this happens, the football team will have to be on stationary bicycle power generators every time there is a school dance to power all of the DJ gear.

    Though, I think the football players will convince the geeks that they should perform power duty so the football players can dance with the cheerleaders.

    - Sam

  • So, perhaps this is all about some people trying to get the pollution laws changed...

    Exactly. Inspectors swooped into the power plants and questions are raised as to why they don't coordinate these scheduled outages. That's the big deal. The pollution thing won't carry any salt in the Bay area, but they could probably get away with it in LA, what's a little more smog.

    California is selling power throughout the west, and some of that is being frowned upon, too, as Washington state has seen much growth and increased draw on CA.

    Used to be 'water rights' was the history of the west, seems like it's power, now. Too bad they haven't worked out a viable way to store excess capacity, say, pump some water up into a resevoir during the night.


  • Half of our problem is the fucking greenies and the other half of the problem is deregulation. We haven't had a new power plant built in the past ten years or so yet our population has grown enormously. The plants that DO exist are owned for the most part by companies that want to jam you up the ass for electricity. Why is it an issue with people in the Bay Area with computers and not with all the fuckers who turned their Christmas lights on at the same time last night.
    As an aside, why do people who run server farms and the like rely heavily on utilities? Get creative with your electricity needs. You can save alot of money if you supply a portion of your power. I know a manager for P&G (Protor and Gamble) who was running one of their factories in Texas IIRC. They bought a pair of jet engines and attached them to the factory for heating and power generation. It saved them a ton of money in the long run because they ended up producing more energy than they used. Invest some of your startup capital into making your building(s) more efficient (creative server farm cooling) so you're less of a hassle on everyone else.
  • We haven't been building enough power plants. Look at capacity versus demand [fossilfuels.org] charts from whatever sources you want. The Bureau of the Census also has the info, but it's not as pretty.
  • OBTW-- For those who think the Christmas lights are the big villain - think again. The alert was called at 5:15PM, before the lights went on.

    Alerts are usually called before 5:15 pm. They try to predict whether they will have to interrupt power as early as possible, and they even have a page [caiso.com] lists the forecasted peak throughout the day. (Another student at my school uses gnuplot to turn the on that page into a nice-looking graph [hmc.edu].) So just because the alert was called before people started turning on Christmas lights doesn't mean the lights didn't affect the electricity use at the peak time (which is usually around 6 pm).

    Also, some of the shortages are due to annual pollution credits for individual plants running out, so it's possible that using electricity even late at night could contribute to additional plants running out by the end of the year.


  • I know it's out of fashion, but it doesn't make it any less true.

    Nuclear power is by far the cleanest, safest and among the cheapest of all large scale power generation schemes.

    Nuclear power is usually compared to other technologies by comparing the nuclear worst case with others normal case, and by counting 1 nuclear death as 1000 other deaths. If you do an honest comparision nuclear comes out clearly ahead, even though it is forced by regulators to have a 1000 times higher security than the competition.
  • It's the thermal cycling from powering up and down which kills the lifetime of electronic equipment due to thermal expansion and contraction.... NOT leaving them on.

    Assuming the power switch dosn't give up the ghost before then.
  • Power shortages in San Francisco, and Silicon Valley have caused power providers to demand that Intel and other tech industry biggies to use less power.

    One: It's The Silicon Valley. It's not a city.
    Two: This is a story submission, please fix your grammar. "...to demand that Intel and other tech industry biggies to..." has one too many to's in it; That is, it has two. *cough*
    Three: This is just ridiculous. This is just another example of government screwing over the capitalists that it claims to love. A city and/or state invites these companies in, happy about the jobs it will provide, and the money it will bring to the region. Then, they fail to provide power infrastructure. This is patently unfair. Also, I've been hearing that people are actually being asked to minimize the number of christmas lights that they put up this holiday season. California's inability to even provide a reasonable Christmas Holiday experience (American-Style) is simply pathetic. Is this what we call caring for the emotional welfare of our citizens?

    Now, I'm of the mind that Christmas is a Hallmark holiday at this point anyway, and I don't mean that in a metaphorical sense. Christmas is more about spending money and keeping up with the Joneses than it is about Jesus, or even a reasonable family value like getting together and getting along. (Note: Jesus is just all right with me, as I don't care what they may say, and I don't care what they may do -- And the holiday was snatched from older "religions" anyway.)

    The answer? More goddamn power plants. Solar, nuclear, tidal, I don't care, but put them in, put them in service. California, you must provide for the needs of industry in California, or it will go to Mexico. Jobs here will be lost, people there will be exploited, and it will all be for the simple want of Kilowatt-Hours.

  • Sure, while we're at it, let's just download power over the internet! There's gotta be an Pre-IPO in this, somewhere.

    The new big lie of the 00's.


  • You could make a huge dent in your peak-hour electic consumption if you had an air-conditioner that froze water overnight and cooled your house with the ice during the day, but if your electric meter can't distinguish (or just as badly, can't tell you) the difference between a 4 PM and 3 AM kilowatt-hour, you have no way to benefit from this.

    Meters which can charge differently by time have been available for decades in other parts of the world. Triggered by either radio signal or an internal clock... Utterly no reason why these couldn't be used in the US...
  • ...what do you suppose the best industry to invest in would be right now in reference to this problem?

    It seems that the "power issue" has been in the news quite a bit lately. Lots of "infrastructure" work needs to be done, etc. So who will be doing this? Who are the major industrial players in the US that will have (hopefully) lots of money pumped into their coffers to fix these problems? Or better yet, who will be the "new generation" players, such as power cell manufacturers, energy efficient device manufacturers, etc.?

  • Most FAB's DO have backup power. The servers are on UPS's. Factory PC's are on UPS's. Office PC's are not. All recent stuff has been saved to a server, so only the latest e-mail or doc revision might not get saved, but it is easly recreated when the lights come back on. Many of the manufacturing tools will shut down in an outage. The backup power is not large enough to handle all the chillers and such the tools need so fabs will go into an organized shutdown. Many tools have a local UPS and will finish the current job so nothing gets stuck in the oven so to speak, then will not start any new jobs before tempratures etc. go out of tolorance. This prevents wafer loss everytime there is a power glitch. However due to the nature of required air handlers to maintain a cleanroom environment, backup power is a requirement to support a FAB. Otherwise DECON after an outage takes too much time and damages too much product. I don't know if this is true for all chip manufactures but it is where I work.
  • Heh. More info please?

    *ROFL* over "we all know the free-market is not doing well in this case because it isn't free-market enough..." you'd think people would get a clue...

  • by ackthpt ( 218170 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @10:44AM (#572102) Homepage Journal
    The power companies have enough power capacity, they just have a bunch of units down for maintenance. I whiz down the road after work and see office buildings with lights on, monitors glowing and such. Intel and others are not being ordered to use less electricity, either. Some companies, heavy power users, have agreed to lower power consumption in exchange for lower rates. The weather has been warm the past few nights, so you can't blame it on heating. I live a block and a half off the water and the thermostat was set to 70 and didn't kick in the furnace all night.

    There are some issues, which are being addressed, but it boils down to deregulation hasn't fully kicked in. When people stop wasting cheap electicity because the rates have gone up there will be plenty to go around. This is one of the warmer states, so they can't really use the argument 'the poor will freeze.' The poor will just have to watch less TV.


  • by Apuleius ( 6901 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @07:53AM (#572103) Journal
    When I moved to America I was astonished to notice that it takes a tornado to cut the power in this country. Recently, the US of A changed to being a little bit underwhelming, but this turns things around.

    You guys actually warn people about the chance of rolling blackouts? In Tel Aviv, no warnings unless it was known that there was going to be a rolling blackout. And even then, not much notice, and only in the form of a few notices pasted on light poles.

    Not to mention the rolling blackouts that happened without any warning at all...

  • by joshuaos ( 243047 ) <ouroboros@fre e d o ment.com> on Friday December 08, 2000 @07:53AM (#572105) Journal
    This sounds to me like a clear indication of the need to put serious effort and research into alternative power sources. Solarhost [solarhost.com] is managing to do pretty well, and that Cambodian village [villageleap.com] is now on the internet with solar and satelite dishes. There are lots of examples of people applying alternative power technologies, and many possible technologies [pks.or.at], some with potential that need some serious research efforts. I hope that this incident will help spark on those kinds of efforts.


    Terradot [terradot.org]

  • The fun thing is that a lot of high tech companies don't use UPSes or tape backups for a _lot_ of their systems. Especially lab/R&D type stuff. Rolling blackouts could cause some ugliness for a lot of companies if data gets lost because of this.

    Would the environmentalists get upset if they took the obvious preventative measure. Installing some batteries and generators in the basement...
  • In theory, the power companies don't have a monopoly any more. The idea was that by deregulating and opening up the lines, you'd be able to buy power from your favorite provider, instead of having to use the state-sanctioned monopoly. This (once again, in theory) would lead to more efficient providers, lower prices, better service, etc., etc.

    The question is, if the providers don't have the capacity to supply the power for everybody that wants it, who would you rather have not enough power for: the companies or people in their homes?

    Personally, I'd rather have companies have to reduce their power slightly, and have people in their homes still be able to cook, depend on a refrigerator, etc.

    As for a socialist country not running out of power, are you serious? Just because you belong to a certain type of society doesn't mean that your country won't exceed it's power supply.

    Just my $.02 or 2-pence, or what-have-you
  • I live in the Silicon Valley area. This has been in the news for the last couple of days, going from a "Stage 1 Power Emergency" to a "Stage 2".

    An interesting side note is that the California Public Utilities Commision is investigating why approx. 25 percent of the power generation capacity in California is off-line. There is speculation that Pacific Gas and Electric is attempting to justify their request for a significant rate increase on the basis that power capacity in the state is inadequate and they need to increase rates to afford buying power on the wholesale market.

    At the same time though there is significant Not-In-My-Backyard going on. A proposal to build a new plant just south of San Jose has been bogged down and may not get off the ground.

    When will everyone figure out that in order to keep having affordable power new generation facilities need to be built?

    James P. Hogan wrote an essay a few years ago called "Know Nukes" where he discusses why well-built nuclear generation is not only more efficient but in fact far safer than building any other form of generator. I just hope we figure it out before we discover that we can't maintain the current status quo. Of course whether the US nuclear power industry can build a "safe, well-built" generation plant is a whole 'nother question. (CANDU! CANDU!)

    FYI: For the record, I'm not affiliated in any way shape or form with anyone in the power generation business.

  • The NIMBY solution is, to me, obvious. Nobody wants to get stuck with a power station in their back yard and not get anything out of it.

    But what if you went into a community and said "If we can build a 500MW plant, we'll give the community up to 50MW of power $0.01/kWh." I know I'd let 'em build a power plant in my town if it meant cutting my electric bill by 85%. It could be a big incentive to power-thirsty industries as well -- move to an area and get nearly free electricity.

    The reason NIMBY has been such a problem with power is that everyone sees it as lots of bad being imposed on them with only dubious "community good", often at the state or national level.

    Notice that many communities *beg* to have prisons or other eco-neutral facilities built near them because they provide good-paying jobs and a tax base. The power industry just needs to start seeing incentives as way to get themselves welcomed into backyards instead of chased out.
  • We had this issue in Las Vegas too. Except Nevada Power told Mirage Inc. they were going to hike power rates 20% to which Mirage determined that their own on-site natural gas fired power generation would be cheaper. Nevada power relented on their price hike.

    Otherwise they might have ended up buying electricity from Mirage :)
  • by Dr.Dubious DDQ ( 11968 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @07:54AM (#572123) Homepage

    To make things worse, I'm under the impression that if we wanted to help out by generating our own power and putting our surplus on "the grid" for others to use, we either have to pay excessive amounts of money to jump through various procedural hoops, or are completely forbidden to do it.

    "Home Power" magazine [homepower.com] (they also put their current issues online in .pdf format) has a series of "guerilla solar" articles about people "sneaking" power they've produced onto the grid, which I find pretty amusing. Maybe enough people "sneaking" "illegal" power back onto the grid might help (and reduce reliance on ponderous corporations and governmental regulations to keep us powered.)

    My god, did I just mix "Green"-style "Renewable Energy" and "Down with Giant Corporations" rhetoric with "Libertarian"-style "I should be able to get [power] wherever and want and sell it to whoever wants it" and "If I want to be self-sufficient it's my business"? Shouldn't "Green" and "Libertarian" rhetoric cancel each other out in a giant explosion or something?...

    A vote for the lesser of two evils is still a vote for Evil.
  • What's the deal? California is always low on something. Water, Gasoline, Electricity, when will it end? Why can't California use all that dot-com tax revenue to get the critical things they need. More importantly, when will we start raising babies for food, thereby providing for population control [talboa.com]. :)

    "Do you hear the Slashdotters sing,

  • Insert obligatory "Oregon doesn't like California" remark here.

    Look, up here in the Pacific Northwest, Oregon and Washington have built record numbers of wind generation systems, and natural gas turbines are being put in place.

    Out of curiousity, where are these record numbers of wind turbines located?

    the California legislature has to take action yesterday and build environmentally-friendly power plants yesterday.

    This is California we're talking about. Environmental concerns aren't exactly a high priority.
  • The reason is not primarily environmental protests, but economics. Nuclear power plants have not been profitable to operate. The extreme complexity of the systems makes them difficult and expensive to maintain, and they are often offline as a result. Also, the cost of constantly upgrading safety systems to the latest standards was economically ruinous.

    While it is true that nuclear power generation in the US is currently not very economical, this is largely due to high regulatory costs. Basically, some of the environmentalists figured out that the easiest way to prevent construction of more nuclear power plants was to increase the cost of building and operating such a plant.

    They accomplished this by lobbying government agencies to increase the regulatory requirements. They also lobbied the government to place some unreasonable demands on the requirements for selecting new sites for nuclear power plants. Finally, they had their lawyers sue companies to prevent them from building new plants. This effectively drove up costs.

    If you don't believe me, then how come nuclear power is economical in France where 70% of the electricity generation is from nuclear power?
  • Anyone got a map of Sim City for Silicon Valley? Maybe they can solve the problem through a simulation.
  • This is fairly common, actually. I know several hospitals in my area that have similar deals. They'll bring their generators on-line at peak times and, in exchange, pay MUCH less.

    Works well for everyone. They have to have the generating capacity sitting there for emergencies anyway, so they get some use out of it during the summer (around here)
  • Wave power has the odd effect of reducing the amplitude of waves, which has been said to be an environmental problem in itself. It is also important to note that tide power has the same effect on tides, causing damage to tidal colonies through shrinkage.
    Solar power simply doesn't have the energy density to power a high-rise office building. It works when there is a lot of land and people who are willing to use natural light, heating, and cooling, but in an office building, the square footage the sun hits isn't sufficient to make any major inroads on the power usage of the building for artificial lights, elevators, heat, cooling, business machines, etc.
    Of course, I favor nuclear, but that just isn't done anymore...
  • Those fuel cells rely on natural gas IIRC, and the price on that stuff has gone way up this year. It may be cheaper to pull power off the grid.

    Now if you could set up a nuclear reactor in your garage or something...

  • Yesterday evening, the grid was under Level 3 emerngency which required manditory rolling blackouts.

    Just so no one is mislead, there were no rolling blackouts last night. There's a white paper linked at the bottom of the other system status page at http://www2.caiso.com/awe/systemstatus.html [caiso.com] that describes what really happens at each stage.

    Stage three is when the CAISO predicts that operating reserves will drop below 1.5%, and unless resolved quickly will probably result in rolling blackouts of the various blocks around the state. But that did not happen last night, thank goodness. I've got a UPS for my two systems (bought a couple of weeks ago, before all the craziness), but it won't last through all of the blackout...

  • by John Jorsett ( 171560 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @07:59AM (#572160)
    Fully one-third of California's power-generating capacity is off-line right now. The excuses being given are maintenance, malfunction, having reached the maximum allowable days under air-quality laws, etc. Regulators are attempting to visit the off-line plants to check on the validity of these claims, but under deregulation, the plants aren't obligated to tell them squat, so several of the plants have told them to take a hike. The suspicion grows that much of the capacity is off-line in order to jack up the rates. It's been reported that a power transmission line that would bring in power from Arizona was shut down for several days, reason unstated. A new power transmission line is being built to California, where it will pass thru and end up in ... Mexico! Couple all this with the fact that California hasn't built a new generating facility in ten years, while demand has been steadily growing, and you get the present situation. And now we're being asked to conserve because of the incompetence (and I dare say corruption) of our politicians and power-generation companies. Well, screw that. I'm turning on what I want to turn on. Perhaps some rolling blackouts are what it will take to wake up the public and get it to put some pressure in the right places. Nothing like no soap operas or traffic lights to get their attention.

    By the way, futures contracts for power delivered in California are going as high as 25 cents per kilowatthour. Last May we were getting it for around 4. If you think power is expensive now, just wait till next summer. And you in the rest of the nation, your turn is coming. California-style 'deregulation' is being pushed in many states. If they succeed, get ready to see your rates quadruple.

  • For electricity, the problem lies in the way that generating plants run: you can't just turn them on or off.

    Depends on the type of plant, with coal and nuclear plants which rely on creating steam starting them up is very time consuming. Other systems such as internal combustion engines or hydroelectric can start up in seconds.
  • Yep. Produce it locally.
    But you'll have to get the gas from somewhere...
  • Yeah, dams are great, except they destroy the ecosystem up and down stream.

    As for Governor Davis, the words "Governor Davis" and "idealism" don't belong in the same paragraph, much less the same sentence. I think the words you're looking for are "spineless," "middle-of-the-road," and "Republican in Democrats' clothing."

  • A while ago, the US Navy backed an aircraft carrier up to Seattle, I believe it was, and connected into the power grid to boost power supply when a critical plant went down.
    Question: any carriers laid up in San Diego right now? Those things have mammoth power generators.
    I can just see it, though: US Navy funds an increase in basic pay by selling electricity to southern California...
  • This actually isn't a problem with the high tech companies in silicon valley, although the ever increasing cpu ranches at companies like www.exodus.com don't help. The problem is that PG&E has shutdown 17 power plants in california because they have reached their air polution limits for the year. This is a completely artificial "shortage". I almost laugh when they tell the customers to not turn on their christmas lights until 7:30pm. My house has 2 strands of little lights. That works out to 2 normal 40 watt light bulbs. *sigh*
  • Don't blame deregulation. Deregulation can't work if there isn't enough power to distribute.

    The issue in California is that they can't build powerplants to provide for the growing use of the state.

    why? Because every damn one of them gets shot down by some green organization.

    Sorry, if your state's growth stagnates because lack of resources they ain't going to have the cash to help the environment either.

    Someone please explain how applying regulation is going to fix it? It won't, because you cannot regulate what DOESN'T EXIST.
  • It doesn't have to be those *specific* fuel cells, but fuel cells in general. You could also use LP (propane). I currently have a very clean industrial duty standby generator at my house. I can run it off of NG or LP, but it costs about 2x as much as if I use the power companies power.

    Yes, NG, or even LP is expensive today, but we also have alternative fuel vehicles emerging. This *should* help to bring the cost of NG down, due to supply and demand and all that.

    The most important thing to note, however, is that we are developing realistic alternatives to some of the monopolistic providers.
  • >Oh, and those air conditioners? Lose them. Buy a fan and deal with it. Ceiling fans are probably the best.

    Heh. You wanna come spend a week at my place here in Austin or my parents' places in Houston next summer? I think a good 5-7 days of the Texas summertime will change your tune. The fastest land animal is not the cheetah, its a no-ac-cuz-it-harms-the-poor-widdle-animals eco-friend running to turn the AC back on...

    (Note that I am a liberal and an environmentalist, but let's face facts, summertime sucks hardcore in the south. ;-) )


  • First off, the article is a little misleading:

    SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Caught in a power crunch even before winter has begun, California ordered some major commercial users to cut back on electricity Thursday...

    California doesn't have power crunches in the winter - most of the state is mild enough. Summer is when we typically have our "power crunch"; everyone and their mother using their AC.

    Second, this just seems created to me. Local news going crazy (as they typically do) about the crisis, and how we all better turn off our Christmas displays... it's making old ladies think thier one string of blinking lights is going to take out the state's power grid. Yet we aren't being asked to not cook, iron, or use hot water - all things that will use considerably more electricity than even a large display of holiday lights. There's news in this, but I don't know if there's an actual story in there anywhere.

    The Good Reverend
  • Does this mean that I might get a little time off work?

    I work in Campbell, CA (just a tad south of San Jose), and the power grid here sucks a big one anyway. In the summer, all of the AC units in the valley get turned on and...


    ... the lights go out in Campbell, the generator comes on at work, and my UPS starts screaming at me to hurry up and stop whatever the hell I thought I was going to get done that day.


    To send me an email, remove the SPAM's and replace the -at- with @.

  • Well, your mileage may vary due to what country you are posting from but I believe that the US has by federal law mandated that the power companies have to accept locally generated power and have set minimum floor prices for it. If you live in a jurisdiction where this is illegal, you could always pump your excess into a Tesla coil for fun...

    Personally, I don't see a green ethic inconsistent with libertarianism as long as the green's don't wish to use the power of the state to compel me to use fewer computers (I'm currently using three).

  • by sdo1 ( 213835 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @08:04AM (#572191) Journal
    How many of these silicon valley people go out jogging at lunch? Or hit the stationary bikes in the exercise room? LOTS!

    Why not set them up on some power generating treadmills and bikes and let their exercise do something useful... like a bunch of little high-tech gerbils.


  • by cprael ( 215426 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @08:05AM (#572192)
    Most of the comments posted so far has been pretty far off base. There are actually several reasons stated for the stage 3 alert called yesterday:

    • A large number of generators have been running flat out since this summer, and need maintenance. Most of the generators in CA have pretty much been running non-stop since early this summer, and need necessary maintenance work. The result is that ~11,000 MW of capacity was offline yesterday. Given that the (potential) shortfall was ~500 MW, that's a big hit.
    • Prices in CA aren't competitive, driving a lot of power out of state. Most CA power distributors (remember, generators and distributors are generally separated now) buy their power under short-term agreements (nobody had the foresight to sign long-term deals, locking in prices). The CA rate top-end is around $250/MW, which is significantly below the rates available out of state. The result? A lot of power gets exported at the same time there's a shortage in CA.
    • Older generators and rampant NIMBYism. Most generators in CA are older plants (20+ years). There's been a widespread attack of NIMBYism since then, preventing construction of new plants. San Jose, for example, just gave the finger to a new ~650MW plant next to the new Cisco campus. Similarly, there's a town on the central coast whose name completely escapes me who is vigorously fighting a plan by the local PP owner to remove the existing (BIG) plant, and replace it with a smaller,lower-profile plant. The locals have decided they want it replaced with a bare lot. Another 500MW of capacity lost.
    • Server farms are bigger power consumers. A given office space converted to server farm space will consume ~4x as much power.
    Now, if you think this is bad, wait until next week. There's a cold front due in.

    OBTW-- For those who think the Christmas lights are the big villain - think again. The alert was called at 5:15PM, before the lights went on.

  • Don't ask, just do it. Buy up all the wind turbines you can and put them online - modern turbines run about 4.5 to 6.5 cents, only gas turbines are cheaper

    Have you ever been to California? There aren't as many areas that get winds consistantly strong enough to power wind generators. There are areas that have wind turbines (such as Techapie (sp?--it's at the southern tip of the Sierra Nevada Mountains by Mojave)), but the wind we get off the ocean isn't as strong or consistant as the wind the Pacific Northwest gets (note, I'm saying this as a San Diegan who lived in Tacoma for a few years)

    The other thing is - get rid of those WinNT and Win2K boxen! Switch to some decent boxen with good cycle usage like *nix.

    Good point

  • A large portion of the population with their own power generation capabilities might be a good way to offset the ever-increasing load on the public utilities, as well.

    I agree, you could set it up so that this "power sharing" was linked to small geographic areas like subdivisions or cities. That way if your genset can't cope with an instantaneous load (AC kicking on, for example) you could take up some slack from the neighbors gennie.

  • You're missing the point. Intel has to do with the power shortage because intel has a _large_ facility housing 6500 researchers using lots of equipment and lighting, and therefore -- power.

    Intel is not the only one using a lot of power, and I strongly suspect they're not the only company cutting their power usage, probably due to money-saving agreements with the power company (as pointed out by someone's earlier post).

    This has nothing to do with what Intel does for a business, or how much power their chips use. It has to do with the big facility Intel has there.

  • Um, actually "cold" is considered to be quite good for computer equipment. At the company where I work, we have an additional air conditioning unit on the roof *just* for the server closet.
  • Simcity! If they had played with Simcity then they would have known far more about making sure that they provide enough power for there City. Also, they could learn about the importance of keeping the city clean so it does not smell like an Urinal, like SF does in a lot of parts...
  • by jafac ( 1449 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @08:13AM (#572202) Homepage
    Let's not forget that GE controls a huge chunk of media companies. let's not forget that GE makes things like: jet engines, electronic components in nuclear warheads, toasters, electric power generation components.

    So it's no wonder that the stories we read in the media point the finger in any direction but at the ones responsible. Is it the California legislation's fault? Is it Intel's fault? Is it Santa Claus' fault? Is it a severe case of NIMBY? (I don't know about y'all, but I have a nuclear plant AND a gas plant with big ugly smokestacks within 20 miles of my house).

    California's supply of power is low, because the industry has been fighting tooth and nail with lobbyists to become privatized and deregulated (so they can bill whatever the fuck they want). The people have been fighting it. (through the California legistlature). And though it would be illegal to bill more for power, it's not illegal for them to drag their feet on construction of new plants, and upkeep of old plants. So, as it has been said, old plants have mysteriously dropped off the grid for maintenance reasons, new plants are not coming on line to meet demand. This is in a PARTIALLY deregulated system.

    In other words, the power companies are trying to build their case for rate-raising, by artificially constraining supply, in an attempt to increase demand (gee, where have we seen THAT movie before? Oh yeah, that old TV series, "RIAA's Angels".)

  • by jesser ( 77961 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @08:08AM (#572209) Homepage Journal
    My school is on interruptible power. This means that when the supply is low, we are told to shut off our power during part of the evening (which is when power consumption is highest); in return, we get substantially lower electricity rates.

    In a stage two emergency, they tell one or more blocks [scebiz.com] to shut off power during some part of the evening. (The evening is when power consumption is highest [hmc.edu].) If we don't shut off our power, we get charged about 90 times as we normally do (from our lowered rate). This has happened about 10 times this semester (which is much higher than any other semester during the last 10 years).

    Since finals are next week, the school decided to leave power on for the dorms during the outages, but only leave emergency lights on in academics. This is costing a lot of money, so most students try to turn off their computers when they find out that our block is supposed to be interrupted.

    Btw, CA was at stage 3 for a while yesterday (pdf link [caiso.com]), but I don't know if they actually started involuntary rolling blackouts.


  • by Mike1024 ( 184871 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @08:55AM (#572224)

    Here is a short guide on how to turn computers off at night.

    Method one: Advanced Power Management computer
    Restart your computer. Right now. Press or whatever to enter the BIOS setup utility. Now look around for an option called 'Wake on Real-time clock' or suchlike. Set this to 10 minutes before you normally arrive. Now get your choice programming language and write a program to shut down your computer. I use Visual DialogScript [dialogscript.com]. Here is the program:

    Exitwin force

    Compile to an executable, then use the task scheduler to run it at an appropriate time. 6:00 PM would be a good example, running every day.

    This will turn your computer off, and turn it on again.

    Method two: Old computer
    Go to your local radio shack (You've got questions. We've got batteries.) and get a security timeswitch. Plug the computer into it (Or just the monitor, if you like) and set the times. If you want, you can write a power-off utility above to turn off your computer.

    You too can try this at home!


    ...another comment from Michael Tandy.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 08, 2000 @08:56AM (#572225)
    Say what you want about the current situation, but the summer is a different matter. There is no question that demand exceeds supply in the summer. When demand exceeds supply, it is because the price is artificially low. Deregulation *is* the answer. Your assessment of the current partially regulated situation is correct, and by all appearances partial regulation is the worst possible scenario.

    The thing that annoys me more is that people want lower prices and fewer generation facilities. You can't have that, it's not possible. In a deregulated scenario, prices will rise, encouraging construction of new facilities. In a regulated scenario, there is often less motivation to build. Regardless, there is no way to build generation facilities when any proposal to do so is defeated by the tree-huggers.

    The solution, of course, is to 100% deregulate, allow rates to float on the open market, and build incentives into the process that encourage the construction of ecologically responsible facilities. If the tree-huggers fight even that, then they should have their power turned off. The plant they didn't want built will supply their power when they allow its construction. If power plants are so evil, then they should be honored to be decreasing the need for them.

  • by jesser ( 77961 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @08:59AM (#572227) Homepage Journal
    There is one scenario where "deregulation" (actually the removal of a state-granted monopoly) could temporarily cause power problems: power companies stop constructing new plants because they're uncertain of whether they will be able to run the plants once they have been built. I don't know whether this is the case, but I suspect that it's at least part of why California has been having electricity shortages every evening this week.

    OTOH, IMO putting a strict limit on the amount of pollution that a given plant can put out is not a good solution, and neither is blocking the construction of new plants. A much fairer way to discourage pollution is to tax it of it based on the how much the pollution costs society, or how much it would cost to clean up. That way, we wouldn't get suddenly get interruptions, blackouts, and high prices at load conditions that shouldn't produce those problems.


  • by w00ly_mammoth ( 205173 ) on Friday December 08, 2000 @08:18AM (#572228)
    If you were a soviet citizen, you'd be enthusiastically crying for the deporation to labor camps of the stupid people who bought *icing* on their *cakes* when they could be using their resources to build more powerful hydroelectric plants, or better tractors. Just think of all the stupid people in california who waste energy using electricity to play silly 3D games, or watch stupid sitcoms on TV (non-productive use of electricity), or huge movie theaters showing silly moving images that don't produce anything.

    Yeah, have sympathy for a company that can afford to shell out a few million dollars to the local congressmen (of course, they are not expecting anything in return), and can afford to hire PR reps who whine about turning off the lights so their employees can make chips in the dark.

    Guys like you need your heads rattled to see if they make a hollow sound. Sheesh. Check your temperature and see if you're alive.

    I bet you probably snitch on your co-workers if they are playing games or reading email jokes, just to boost that 0.0000013 % improvement in the economy.

    Andy Grove himself would send you a personal generic christmas greeting card.

    I bet you're a bundle of fun at Christmas. :)


Mathematicians practice absolute freedom. -- Henry Adams