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Is the Net The Cause of California's Power Problems? 497

kenf writes "Salon Magazine has an article about folks from the power companies blaming the internet for their power shortage woes." Well, the net does consume a huge percentage of the nations electricity. The article makes a lot of good points. I'm glad I don't live in CA, but how long before it affects the rest of us?
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Is the Net The Cause of California's Power Problems?

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  • You see, my parents both grew up on farms, farms which have since been replaced by trees. Therefore, I feel that our family, and me myself are warranted a eco-credit..

    Actually, if you look at the growth of forests nationwide over the last century, on average, everyone in the US is in the black! And throw in all the gains over the last 50 years on top of that.. Whoo-hoo!

    Yippee! I've never done a gasholine-fueled bonfire outside before.. I guess it's time to start. Will you join me and use up your credits so we can have a bonfire twice as big?

  • If the price is depressed, like the residential rates that PG&E are forced to pay because of rate-limits, who is paying the price?

    In the case of electricity in california, it's obvious that PG&E is currently paying the price for the rate limits. And what a price tag, 10 billion!

    So, if the price we're paying for power/natural gass/gasholine is depressed, who is paying the difference between the real price and the price we pay. (No, 'our children' is not a correct answer, the energy we use now to bring up our children is an advantage to their future, not a harm.)
  • BZZT, sorry, your power supply does NOT draw 200 watts to operate, rather it can supply that much power to the rest of the system. Although the device is not perfect, it is nowhere near 100% inefficent. YOu can tell this by touching the power supply case of a comptuer you just turned off, it is warm to the touch, but nowhere near what it would be if it needed 200 watts to operate.
  • If you spend 1/2 as much on gasoline, that's more money you can spend on other things. Explain again why this is bad for the economy?

    The important thing is to make sure that the price of gasoline is *correct*, so that people can Do the Right Thing, for the economy and the environment, simply by adding up the prices they see themselves. If the price of gasoline is too low, because (for example), insufficiently strict environmental regulations have the effect of undervaluing the use of natural resources, then people make incorrect decisions, like driving to a more distant store when they should have walked to a closer one, when it's the driving that really used more resources.

    ---J. Bruce Fields

  • And face it a room full of servers use a lot of power.

    That's true, but not for the reason you are thinking. The reason the Internet uses so much power is because air conditioning large data centers is very expensive. I know one major hosting provider who is actively considering buying a utility company because it will be cheaper than buying power on the open market. They pay more for power than they do for real estate, and they're in Manhattan!

    I advised them to relocate to Alaska (seriously!) and staff their sysadmins on the same model that oil companies use for their Engineers. But that's not feasible because the average server isn't nearly so reliable that the customer is willing to give up easy hands-on access. But we'll have to re-evaluate in 2-5 years.

  • To paraphrase what people kept telling the elder George Bush as his post-Gulf War popularity lead slid into an election loss, the above message should be tatooed (rapidly) on the inside of every West Coast VC's eyelids!

    It's simple, really -- the VCs are there, they want their money close to them, the start-ups wind up there (Silicon Valley). This drives up the density, which drives up housing costs, power demands, and all the other drains on local culture and infrastructure... leading to what I like to refer to as the "Hong Kong-ification of the Peninsula". I've railed in the past about this, I've railed about how one nasty earthquake could send the industry into a REAL tailspin, I've railed about the labor costs in the Valley, but now, perhaps, the brownouts are vindicating my earlier observations; couple this with the current capital crisis, and maybe, just MAYBE, somebody may get wise: Milwaukee is a "Great Place by a Great Lake" and AltaVista needs to conserve money by cutting labor costs, so why shouldn't AltaVista up and move to Milwaukee? Similarly, Excite could move to Omaha, VA to Lansing, etc., and all of a sudden both Silicon Valley and the companies that "used to be there" would both be a lot better off.

    Of course, all of this is predicated on an even larger assumption: that the VCs would actually be willing to believe that the people running the companies they invested in knew what they were doing!


  • Took a tour of the Texas Tech University physial plant/tunnels/central-heating-and-cooling-plant. Kinda cool to see all of the co-generation they have going on to generate electricity from excess steam and other sources of heat.

    Amarillo and Midland might be a good deal smaller than Lubbock, but at least they're pretty towns.

    Go Red Raiders and get rid of Leach! At least the Band is award-winning.
  • by jd ( 1658 ) <imipak.yahoo@com> on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:53AM (#501124) Homepage Journal
    Blaming the Internet seems to be the "in-thing" at the moment. Sure, it's not without flaws, limits, etc, but it's not responsible for all Earth's ills.

    Power consumption is a factor of many things, not just one juicy target.

    First, not all the power that is generated ever gets used. The wastage through heating up the power grid is significant, in itself.

    Then, the generators themselves are horribly inefficient devices. The best theoretical conversion is only 50%, but the reality is probably not even close. Often due to poor maintenance, the use of cheap materials, etc. Short-term profits vs Long-term gains.

    Once you -get- the power, though, you don't expect house wiring is any better, do you? Poor wiring is painfuly common, throughout the country. You could probably map cities by the RF emissions of the nearby buildings.

    Finally, components in computers, etc, generate a very low-grade electronic smog. Below the legal limits, sure, but enough to be measurable and to cause endless problems with sensitive receivers.

    By the time you get to the Internet, most of the waste has already happened.

  • by tewwetruggur ( 253319 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:53AM (#501125) Homepage
    California is the source of California's problems. One day, they'll have to realize that.

    Hopefully California's deregulation debacle will help other states that are going to undergo dereg. (such as here in Ohio) how not to do it. Now, if they could only learn from their own lessons...

  • by Nerds ( 126684 )
    For example, Mills and Huber argue that after factoring in all the networking and telecommunications equipment required on the back end, like routers and servers, a PC and its peripherals connected to the Net use 1,000 watts of power,
    which is as much the electricity used by 10 100-watt light bulbs.
    Maybe I'm just being a little sensitive today, but did anyone else read this and feel a little bit insulted? Am I reading Salon or Hilites? Maybe they should just change their name to Salon: You're an Idiot.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Where 24% of the worlds emissions are generated by 8% of the global population. Don't even start me on the other crap such as pesticides that the rest of the civilised world have banned, but you lot still use to save a few bucks. Other countries manage to be more energy efficient. Why is America always exempt ? Civilisation at the cost of the planet.
  • Sadly, in some way, I might be able to believe that a Palm connected to the net consumes more than a stand alone palm.

    For example, if we count the telephone equipment, routers, etc along the way for the communication. But then we should only count the fraction of the performance being used by the Palm. So, if a Palm used 0.001% of the bandwidth of a switch that used 15W of power at peak load, then maybe we should put that .15mW on the Palm's "Power budget". But then, to be fair, we would need to take that off of the alotment for the switch.

    It just comes down to where the power is assigned to, and I still don't see how the Palm could use as much as a refrigerator.

  • "The electric system in California was not originally designed for a high-tech industry. As the high-tech industry has grown, so has the level of technology that we have to provide, or try to provide," says Scott Blakey, a spokesman for PG&E, one of the state's largest utilities. "You've taken what essentially is a 19th century system
    of poles and wires, and using late-20th century technology you've tried to meet the needs of what is going to be a 21st century industry."

    I don't get that at all. All the power company has to provide is 120V low Z with a reasonably reliable uptime. Even for short outages we have UPS's and power conditioners are traditionally owned by consumers with mission critical computing gear. WTF? Just because the end use of power is some modern fancy dancy techno-gee-whiz gadgetry doesn't mean the generator or grid has to be also.
  • Leave the net on. When I'm surfing, the TV is off. When I'm watching TV the computer is off. However the cable box is on 24 X 7. Maybe if everyone shut off the cable box with a power strip when they are not watching TV, that would save more than the aprox 3 hr/day the computer used. Anybody notice cable converters run hot, even when they are "off"? Besides my home theatre uses more power than my computer. The theatre runs with a good size receiver, seprate tuner, VCR, Cable Box, and Laser Disk. Seldom is it just the TV.
  • by Hairy_Potter ( 219096 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:00AM (#501156) Homepage
    In the old days, ca 1985, if I wanted porn, I had to drive to a newstand or an adult bookstore, burning precious gasoline.

    Now I can sit at home and download it, saving energy.

    You can apply this to any other kind of shopping you want to, also.
  • Check out the December issue of Linux Journal. There is a good article (with source!) about apcupsd [linuxjournal.com], open source software for APC UPS's.

    "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

  • We could also realize that the price we HAVE been paying is extremely depressed from the real value of the (power|natural gas|gasoline) and stop using quite so much of it.

    And in California's case they really screwed the utils hard. Their prices were allowed to fluctuate but they couldn't pass any on to the consumers? And this is DEREGULATION? No, it's deregulation of the power company's outlay without deregulating their income. Say "Goodbye" to profit/profitability.

    I can't wait till Ohio follows California's "brilliant" power deregulation scheme. So glad I don't live where I work!
  • >A storm (granted, a nifty big nasty one) actually managed to take down a nuclear power plant?

    Disclaimer: What follows is pure speculation because I didn't follow the news very closely.

    My hunch is that some kelp got torn loose from the seabed and the waves clogged a warm-water release pipe, or a cold-water intake pipe, limiting the ability of the plant to condense the steam and return it to circulation.

    If my supposition is correct, then any gas- or coal-fired generator would have been shut down for the same reason.

  • by peccary ( 161168 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:58AM (#501184)
    Somebody needs to spend a little more time in Econ class.
    Waste is bad for an economy.
    Efficient use of natural resources is good for an economy.
    As a practical example:
    Say I conserve gas by driving half as much as before. That leaves more money in my pocket for me to either purchase more useful products, or to invest in my businesses to enable me to more effectively produce goods and services.
    Now if hundreds of people do this, that's a serious increase in capital investement, which will produce unparalleled growth.
  • I am afraid I am going to have to repeat this for a while now, because you are spreading the Big Lie that has become a laissez-faire mantra on this board and is being accepted without criticism.

    The fact is that the temporary (until 2002) freeze on prices was mandated by the power producers themselves, because they were afraid that deregulation was going to cause a drop in prices as consumers would be able to choose cheaper providers. They wanted a a window of ensured profitability before margins got razor-thin. The fixed price was, at the time, above predicted market rates. Only in the San Diego area was the retail price unfrozen - it was there that the first signs of the reality of the situation (that deregulation would lead to higher, rather than lower, prices in the energy market) became apparent.

    In fact, there are plenty of reasons to believe that deregulation will always lead to higher prices for energy, when it leads to redundancies in infrastructure that don't exist with a regulated monopoly.

  • > As many posters have noted, the California power problem has far more to do with government regulation of power than of Internet use.

    Actually, it's the "free candy for all" mentality. That statement applies equally to the CA administration and legislature, the power companies, and the voters/consumers of CA.

    I researched it a bit last time this came up. You can read my post here [slashdot.org]. Notice that the quotes and links are to old articles, where people were pointing out how misguided the legislation was back when it was first passed (before signed, even), and again when it was first going into effect.

    In short, the utilities convinced the legislature to bail them out to the tune of 30 billion dollars, and the legislature sold it to the public as a sure-fire way to get a 10% reduction in their utility bills. The utilites that are asking for another bail out now were the chief proponents of the bill that got them into the current mess.

    Please see my link above -- there are some really interesting quotes there, from back when the deal was first cut. IMO you can't discuss it meaningfully without knowing how we got where we are.

  • There is something in economics called "The Law of Supply and Demand". People (I hope) know this. Perhaps those who comment on California's electricity problems could bear it in mind. In CA, the underlying problem is that, although demand for energy has risen rapidly in the past decade, CA has built very little new generating capacity--i.e. little new supply. As to why there has been so little new generating capacity, The Economist has this to say:
    ... state officials deserve full blame, for they have found plenty of ways to discourage firms from building new power plants.
    The full article is available here [economist.com].

    James Hoecker, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, put it this way:

    As disappointing as it may seem to some, we cannot "price cap" California out of a supply shortage....
    His sarcasm is merited. You should not expect investment in a market that has arbitrary price rollbacks and an uncertain and hostile regulatory environment.

    California deregulated electricity in the hope of milking power companies. It cannot work like that. Here in Britain, as in Scandinavia, electricity deregulation has gone smoothly.

    "Plea se leave your values at the front desk" --sign posted in a Paris hotel

  • AGREED! As to the other reply. Get a clue. You keep your leukemia, and I'll keep my asthma. Nuclear is the cleanest, and thus the safest form of power generation we have.

  • by FallLine ( 12211 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @07:01AM (#501194)
    Deregulation is part of the problem.
    Saying that deregulation is part of the problem is sort of like saying that "freedom" is part of the problem for any number of problems. Though this so-called deregulation effort may brought about the current events to some extent, saying that it's deregulation's fault confuses the matter. It's been done successfully in a great many markets. Furthermore, it's quite clear that the issue is the MANNER in which it was implemented (i.e., fixed retail prices) by WHOM and other particular preexisting elements in California's energy market.

    . I don't understand why the government was willing to sit back and watch the power companies fuck up California's power supply, through their idiotic cartels.

    Any reasonably responsible government anywhere else in the world would have kicked serious ass, and ordered the incompetents to build more power stations. And whether its against the American way or not for the government to interfere with the private sector is just so much twaddle. Our government should damn well pull its finger out of its ass and start ordering private companies to do its bidding, at least when these companies are the crux of the most econimcally powerful state od the union. It's in the best interests of everyone that they do so.
    First, they're NOT operating at maximum capacity. This means that LACK of power is not the issue per se, it's economics. The wacko way in which this so-called deregulation was implimented the retail power companies are forced to deliver power below cost (e.g., fix/regulated retail prices, with higher market prices). Though this may tie back into supply and demand, in the sense that increased demand makes that power more expensive, don't confuse this with lack of power.

    Second, most of the power retailers are LOSING money hand over hand because of the current situation. If anyone is a cartel it's the wholesalers--which is a much more complex situation.

    Third, the reason why the government can't merely say "build more powerplants or else" (as if that is the real problem right now), is because money doesn't grow on trees. If power costs more for the companies to acquire (or produce) then they can sell it for, then companies will simply not sell. The companies are not some magical entity that can just absorb these costs. In fact, given their relatively low margins, operating at below cost will QUICKLY put them out of business (as is being demonstrated now). This means that shareholders and lenders will not supply money to the power companies. In other words, the power companies either raise their retail prices OR the government itself starts paying. If the government pays this is coming out of tax payer pockets anyways. Either way, you're back at square one.

    Deregulation has SUCCESSFULLY circumvented these problems in many markets by allowing the companies to respond economically to demand. For instance, when demand starts to rise relative to supply, prices increase. This increases the incentive for the companies to build powerplants. Whereas in California's poorly deregulated market, they're not allowed to raise prices. Furthermore, they are (rightly) nervous that the government will step in shortly after they've spent billions on new powerplants.

  • This guy is spot on. As most people in Ireland at least realise, the consumer price of gasoline is a joke in the US. You guys do not pay at all for the cost of polluting our (that includes you whoever you are) environment! The price of petrol in Ireland is roughly 1=$1 / litre. What do you pay? The average car engine in Ireland is probably 1.3 litre. How much gas does your car guzzle? I rest my case.
  • I have a hard time believing that even in the "suburbs" there aren't some stores worth visiting in walking or riding distance.

    I tried to ride my bike to the store once (well within riding distance). I was nearly killed by the monster SUVs and the fact that there is less than 2 inches of dirt before the dropoff into rocky trenches at the side of the road. If there were a bike lane, I would do a lot more riding. It's unfortunate since I really prefer riding to driving most of the time.

  • I work at Cisco Systems, and am on the architecture team designing the next generation multi-tera bit L3 switch. One of our biggest problems in designing this switch is cooling. The switch will encompass a standard network rack, be about 6 feet tall, and consume around 10-15kW in a typical configuration. That's 10-15kW in a 4 square foot region.

    Granted, a networking closet won't have a whole bunch of these beasts (yet), but when you add in a bunch of lower power switches along with the big aggragator, you have some serious power density.

    Keep in mind that one of the ways power-people measure power usage is by the power density: kW / square feet. A large data center can consume megawatts in a single building. As speeds and feeds increase, so do the power requirements needed to make it shake and dance.

  • I don't see how you can draw that conclusion. My desktop computer has a 300W power supply, and four separate power supplies in its peripheral devices. My monitor consumes 140W, or more depending on how many USB peripherals are plugged in. Meanwhile, my VA Linux 1220 servers, fully loaded with CPUs, RAM, and hard drives, has a maximum power consumption of only 220W. Of course no monitor is ever attached.

    I seriously doubt that servers use as much power as desktops. Even a decked out Compaq ES40 with 4 CPUs, 4 GB of RAM, and 12 disk drives has a maximum power consumption of only 1440W, and that machine could probably run thousands of regular web sites, mail for 1 million people, or an entire large internet business.

  • by bluGill ( 862 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @07:34AM (#501207)

    True, but we don't normally in the US. 220 is reserved for things that use a lot of power (twice the voltage means half the amps), most low power hosehold stuff is 110 volts. If they are using 220, then it means they are using a lot of power.

    The posters point is this: for what are they using that power? Enertainment. So you can solve californias power problems easially, just turn off your TV, boycott movies, don't touch amusement park rides. There are plenty of things that can be done cheaply for entertainment that don't involve electrisity.

    Fishing is a lot of fun, and catch and release is the norm for most fishermen. Get a sail/row boat/canoe, a cane pole and try some old fashioned fishing with out the electronic gagets.

    Your local library has shelves full of free enertainment waiting for you. You can read by the light of a 5 watt bulb (I've done it), and even if everyone did the same the energy use wouldn't amount to anything.

    Set up a community dance with old fashioned acustic insterments live. Sure it won't be as loud, but it will be just as much fun. There is a good chance that your community has musicians with more talent then the loud music that most people listen to today. Plenty of socalizing, when your not breathless from dancing. You might accually get to know someone too if once conversation quits drifting to the latest movie/soap opera. (get a life people, what happens on your TV show isn't the most interesting conversation topic, just the easiest)

    There are countless other activities you can get into that don't need electrisity, and many of them are fun. I've listed three, trying to cover a broad enough range that nobody will like them all. (Even when your not the only one in the boat fishing is a silent activity, while reading is best a solitary activity, and you can't have a dance as I've suggested alone - but you can do whichever fits your personality)

  • The problem was caused the way the deregulation was structured by the politicians.

    I agree. I should have phrased it a bit differently: "the problem isn't with deregulation, the problem was that it wasn't deregulated enough." But you'll note that there are a whole lot of fruits falling from the trees screaming that this proves that deregulation doesn't work, and the only solution is more government control.


  • I have to side with the other reply on the Alaskan Wildlife Refuge bit. There is "nothing" up there. Of course, there's no trees in Oklafuckinghoma (I just like saying it that way) or Kansas either, but that is besides the point.

    Really, one should check out some of the oil projects that are going on on the Alaskan North Shore. I'm not sure where that is, but I used to work for Parsons, an engineering company that did a lot of the design work for the North Shore drilling project. You'd be surprised at how little impact that the project has on the surroundings. If I'm not mistaken, the oil field covers some 40,000 acres of land. The drilling platforms cover only about 90 of those 40,000 acres.

    When people go worrying about turning Alaska into a swiss cheesed wasteland, they really ought to look into exactly what is going on there now.

  • Everyone should quit shaving.

    Men would acquire beards and moustaches. Women would get hairy pits and legs. We'd be warmer, we wouldn't use electricity in shaving, and we'd be more welcome in the EU!

  • Wrong. Seventy-five percent of the plants are online, and twenty-five are offline. This is a pretty high percent of offline plants.

    Each of the plants that are offline are nominally offline for an individually valid reason (malfunction, maintenance, etc.) but the aggregate figure is suspiciously high. The P.U.C. here is starting to suspect that there may be some market manipulation going on.

  • by Russ Steffen ( 263 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @07:05AM (#501215) Homepage

    Here is a rebuttal [lbl.gov] to this story from the Lawrence Berkeley Labs. They contend that nationally, computers use less than 2% of the power.

  • >The only other partial reason for it is the strict polution limits set. They can't operate without exceeding their quotas so they are shutting down for that reason as well. This is more of a tough problem than the pricecaps, because they can't just open it up to "pollute all you want, guys"

    And why the hell NOT?

    Seriously. Does a red light force your vehicle to come to a complete stop with your front bumper behind the white line?

    The state is responsible for the laws that mandate the pollution quotas. The state is responsible for enforcing those laws.

    If Gov. Davis can talk about using the power of eminent domain to seize generating assets, he's just as capable of invoking emergency powers to rescind the quotas and fire up the plants.

    The gas-based ones probably won't be able to produce power at a profit, based on the price of natural gas. But the coal-based ones should be just fine.

    What I still don't know (and haven't been able to find out), is (a) how many plants are offlined due to "quota" reasons, and (b) of those, how many can produce power at reasonable cost. The only "polluting" technology that I know of that fits this bill is coal. (Nuclear, hydroelectric, and geothermal are zero-emission.)

  • The fact is that the temporary (until 2002) freeze on prices was mandated by the power producers themselves

    That's actually irrelevant, isn't it? Regardless of whether the industry asked for it, it's still government price controls.

    The fixed price was, at the time, above predicted market rates.

    Ah, the miracle of central planning.

    Just because the companies thought it would work out in their interest, and asked for it specifically, doesn't mean it's a good thing to do.

    - - - - -
  • With all of the computing peripherals in CA, it's no wonder they're having power drains. For years now the AC power adapters (little black plugs you plug into the wall, and then into your scanner, modem, etc..) are power hungry beasts. At idle, when the peripheral is turned off, they average a power consumption of around 3 watts! This is a relative term of course. I forget if it's per hour, and if there has been progress made in recent years, but it's still absurd for a device that needs no power when it is off to be draining that many watts from the grid. If you add up every single one of those from each desk in CA, you get some large numbers.
  • Conservation is bad for an economy.

    Don't you actually mean:
    Conservatives are bad for an economy

  • I'd just like to point out that 10,700 MW of California's generating capacity was taken off line "for maintenance" by the generating companies just as the present crisis started, and is still off line. If that's not manipulating the market, I don't know what is.

    The CA power crisis appears to be artificially induced with the aim of forcing the state to construct more capacity. The Internet has little to do with it. Whereas I agree that CA should construct more capacity, I feel that trashing the economy this way is not a good method of achieving the desired results. It will be interesting to see developments over the next month or so...

  • The point is that CA is having power supply problems, and power wholesalers refuse to cut rates. This is what happens when a monopoly is in control: higher price, lower quantity, more profit

    Excuse me? I missed the part where the monopolies were in control, since CA deregulated the electrical industry a couple of years ago.

    As far as I know, they are free to purchase more energy off the grid, but can't because there is currently not enough generating capacity in the state. The wholesalers are pretty much free to charge whatever they want (free market, supply and demand, all that Econ 101 crap.) I don't see any monopoly there.

    On an interesting side note, NPR had a report featuring third-party companies profiteering from the situation. There are high-energy-consumption manufacturers who signed purchase contracts for electricity at ~$20-$30/megawatt, and are shutting down to sell their "capacity" for ~$200-$500/megawatt. Due to the nature of their contracts, they make more money by selling their potential usage than they would produce out the other end of the factory. (As a bonus, they get to lay off their workers while the factories are closed.) So don't worry -- some companies are still making money.


  • This is so damn typical...

    It's typical of the current thinking in B-schools and MBAs. Don't "own" any real assets, outsource everything. Be a middleman selling the products with someone else's technology in them from someone else's factory to customers shopping on the web site written by someone else's programmers hosted on someone else's servers, delivered with someone else's trucks. Calls are handled using someone else's call center.

    This way you don't tie up your cash in low-growth assets like factories, buildings, machines or employees. You just skim 10% off the top and can manage the entire thing with a cell phone in one hand and a coke spoon in the other.

    From an economic perspective it's hard to argue *against* this kind of strategy -- putting your cash into high-yielding securities makes higher returns than a factory and yeilds greater liquidity. I just think that from a macro perspective it leaves systems vulnerable because everyone hops onto this bandwagon and no one invests infrastructure.
  • Nuclear waste is just non-fissionable radiocactive material, but, nuclear powerplants don't create -more- radioactives... they take radioactives and accelerate their decay by hitting a critical mass to cause rapid fissioning instead of slow decay one particle at a time.

    And where does all that uranium come from? The ground... so... exactly how are we creating more danger by digging it up, using it, and burying it again? (well, aside from the transportation and use phases with their obvious dangers; but as far as I can see, once it's re-buried we're no worse off than before it was mined.)

    Also, the salt caves proposal estimates something like a 2% chance that the caves would be ruptured in the next 10,000 years or so, which is probably at least as good of odds as any given uranium deposit remaining buried.

  • Lay off the crack, during the California heatwave (100+ for weeks on end) while our A/C went out the house I was living in shot up in excess of 115F.

    There were 6 of my computers, and 4 others through the house. Not one of them had heat problems. Computers are more than able to run with outside temperatures above 100F. Show me one that isn't and I'll show you a CPU Fan that is bad.

  • Do you guys have any IDEA how much electricity Holywood, Universal Studios, and all of the other Studio's/Major Amusment parks use over there? Most of their outlets are 220's!
  • ... is writing software on my Linux box.

    More seriously, your ideas are good, but a bit naive. I like dancing, but doing so involves a drive downtown. And the bands that play aren't accoustic, nor are the places lit by candlelight.

    Fishing would take a much longer drive.

    Unfortunately, most of us don't live in small towns where the dance hall is just around the corner and the lake is a mile hike.

  • by subedei ( 178270 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @07:47AM (#501253) Homepage
    The power shortage in California is a fraud. There is only one entity to blame, the power companies, who wrote the deregulation bill and have been milking consumers and taxpayers since (and before, I might add).

    The power shortage is artificially induced. California has not built any power plants in 10 years. The average age of a power plant in CA is 30 years. There is supposed to be built into the rates a surcharge (and this is older than deregulation) which provides these companies with cash to upgrade and invest in new power plants. This money, however, has gone straight to the pocketbook instead of being used for reinvestment. PG&E is now the largest own of power plants in Massachusetts. In 1995, PG&E bought out an independent power producer and proceeded to shut down 5 power plants.

    The average number of power plants down at any one time in California has been historically around 10-12%, even in times of crisis like earthquakes and heavy storms. There have been times recently when this percentage has gone as high as 40%. Can anyone say price-fixing? Of course, the politicians have mentioned it a few times, but since they get heavy contributions from the power companies, they are reluctant to follow through on anything. We are told that these plants are down for "routine mainenance." Again, this is something which used to be fairly short-term, sometimes for just a few hours. Now, all these plants are going down for weeks and months. They conveniently come back on-line when the price of electricity has gone up.

    Has anyone looked at PG&E or Edison's profits? They have been skyrocketing since deregulation... and, again, this should come as no surprise since they wrote the bills. First off, they made incredible profits by selling OLD power plants at a premium. It should be kept in mind, however, that they didn't sell off all their power plants. These companies made more profits in the first HALF of 2000 than they did in all of 1999. On top of this, they have raked in billions of dollars from deregulation, from tax-payer subsidies for "stranded assets" and sur-charges (on top of their subsidized decrease in rates).

    So how are they in crisis? Well, if they were individuals, it would be called schizophrenia. Essentially, they are treating themselves as two individuals, one which takes on all the debt and one which takes in all the profits. If I tried that, I'd land in jail or a psycho ward in no time. They have one unit (retail) which is buys the power (in part from themselves) and then sells it to the consumer. This portion is not making a profit. But these same companies also have another unit which takes in the profits from selling themselves electricity, from the various billion dollar handouts the state of CA has given it, and by acting and brokers for the electricity, driving up the price, their stock, and their profits. There was an article in some papers yesterday about the Federal regulators approving of this scheme, PG&E being allowed to split itself in two to shelter its profits in one half, while taking billions of dollars in "bail-out" money from the state for the other half.

    This is the way these companies work. They cook up a scheme to milk us and get their friends the politicians and journalists to help justify it and push it through. And of course, we don't believe them, even, but what are we going to do about it, we aren't organized? A poll printed in the L.A.Times last week revealed that something like 60-65% of us think this whole thing is concocted. They count on us not being able to do anything.
  • Don't make me laugh! What's the capacity of the power supply unit of your super-powerful computer? 250W? 300W? That's the *maximum*, but never mind that, let's assume you are actually using that much power. That's 3 lamps. 5 of the very weak 60W lamps.

    How much does your microwave uses? 500W? 750? What about your toaster? 1000W? 1500W? Electrical heater: 2000W? 2500W? Refrigerator, freezer, electrical boiler, water heater, hair drier, TV... your computer doesn't even make a dent on what you are paying (and consuming).

    There are two reasons for the California problem:

    1) The power companies put all new power station development on hold until the deregulation was through, to see what kind of playing field they would have. The deregulation was long, and the power consumption skyrocketed all through it.

    2) The power companies were incompetent, resulting in very bad deals and power consumption predictions.
  • That is the second most interesting viewpoint on this I have read today...my own being the first of course...

  • There is one reason, and one reason alone for the power shortages: lack of power. We knew that we needed to build more power plants years ago, but the government totally screwed it up.

    And now they blame deregulation! It's just incredible gall, when the problem began way before deregulation.

    And no, conservation is not the answer. Not in the past, not now, and never will be. The pie is not limited, and doesn't have to be. More technology is the answer to the problems of technology. We are not going to return to the caves, so I hope people will just deal with the fact that most people like civilization.


  • by Sebastopol ( 189276 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @07:50AM (#501260) Homepage
    Hey hey, I hug trees, eat tofu and think fur is stupid, but I'm way pro nuclear. And if you know anyone that is anti-nuclear because of the "pollution issue" just ask them what they would rather have:

    a few hundred tons of nuclear waste that can be contained and monitored somewhere safe (like Nevaada),

    or a few billion tons of fossile fuel waste dumped uncontrollabley into the oceans and spewed into the atmosphere.

    Nevadans may hate the idea, but when normalized the power/waste ratio of nuclear plans is much higher than coal/oil and the waste output is a heck of a lot more manageable.

    My $0.02.

    And go easy on the Greens, a desire to breathe clean air isn't a stupid idea.

  • "I'm glad I don't live in CA, but how long before it affects the rest of us?"

    This question implies another one: "How long can the rest of us ignore it, and avoid taking action?"

    That's right, how long can we avoid taking action? THAT's what everyone really wants to know. How long can we pretend that the problems are someone else's? How long can we run our computers 24 hours/day in our neighborhood, before the power outages come.

    I'm hear to tell you friends that the time for action is now. Now, as in RIGHT now. The power grids are connected right across North America, and the power sources are dwindling worldwide. Our rate of power consumption is going up astronomically, and isn't going to change unless YOU do something about it.

    Try asking a different question. Instead of asking how long before it affects us (it already is!), ask how we can keep the problem from affecting us at all (any more). In other words, find a solution for the problem before it's too late, instead of running away from it. (If you think that running away is a crazy solution which no one will ever take seriously, think about how many people you've heard say, "Thank God I was smart enough to see this coming and leave CA.")

    This holistic approach goes for everything. We really do live in a global community now--let's try to repair and sustain it.

  • The utilities (PG&E, SCE, and SDG&E) were prohibited by the CPUC from entering into long term power contracts with the generators. The idea here was that they wanted to make sure that CalISO and the PX had enough business to remain viable.

  • by Anonymous Coward
    Think of all the California potheads that rely on indoor grown marijuana, a decent grow roow consumes hundred of kilowatts/hours a day.

    If you could grow marijuana outside, using freely available sunlight, power consumption would drop.

    Or the Californian's could jsut stop smoking pot, like that's gonna happen.
  • by AstynaxX ( 217139 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @07:51AM (#501267) Homepage
    Two folks both said this, misisng the point a bit... sure, less gas expenditure means more pocket money, but if I'm STUCK AT HOME since I'm not driving as much, how do you propose I spend it? Maybe I'm just quaint or behind, but for all my love of technology, I hate mail order/internet order. Too much can go wrong, and there's something nice about being able to use something as soon as you spend your money on it. And, judging from the dotcom death march, most folks seem to agree with me on purchasing things in person. So less gas use means less traveling to stores to buy stuff, means less stuff bought.

    BTW efficiency and conservation are NOT the same. I can take an efficient route to visit my family 100 miles away, conservation means not visiting at all.

  • Now people with the IQ of a dead lemming, or the president, will blame the 'Net for everything from smut (its the naked people, not the 'Net,) to smut (or other cause of crop failure.)

    There's more power used in California by grow-lights for people's pot gardens than by PCs. You KNOW they've been smoking something to come up with that argument.
  • It amazes me how frequently people do this. Recently, (where I work) I helped conduct a move to a new building. I was in charge of the server room.

    I estimated (using UPS logs and growth prediction) the power requirements over the next year (assuming we doubled equipment and wanted some overload capacity) around 12-16kVA. A contractor they hired had a different idea. He went from box to box reading and adding up the maximum load specs from each power supply, and came up with a ridiculous figure. We settled on a 36kVA UPS.

    Needless to say, we're using just over 10% of its capacity, with absolutely everything online.

    All men are great
    before declaring war

  • by ejbst25 ( 130707 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:03AM (#501271) Homepage
    In one way or another. You or your company most likely buys a product from a company in Silicon valley...and if the price of electricity is going up and the outages are costing the companies..the price will slowly be passed on to you or your company as the consumer.
  • Satan's word wouldn't be too bad. That's only 4 bytes on a modern PC, which wouldn't be much of a portscan.

    Besides, for the benefit of any Christian Slashdot readers, I believe a certain gentleman, the humble son of a carpenter, said something about not judging others.

    You're right that there -are- a lot of people who claim that the Internet is the devil's work, but those aren't Christians. Those are Socially Acceptable Terrorists. A terrorist is one who uses fear and intimidation to forward a political agenda, usually grabbing power for themselves. And the only reason they're Socially Acceptable is that apathy is the US' number 1 export.

  • As far as power consumption growing is concerned, it's not the desktops. It's the servers. They consume far more power than a truckload of desktops, and they run much closer to capacity than a desktop, most of the time.

    To me, it seems simple: people want to buy power off the companies. Companies want to sell power to make money. Why the heck can't they sort it out properly?

    Part of the problem here is that CA was only partially deregulated. The wholesalers can charge pretty much whatever they want. However, the utilities can't pass those costs along to the customers--the price they're allowed to charge is frozen. The utilities would love to buy & sell electricity, provided that they didn't lose money on the deal (even if they just sold it at cost). But you can only buy at 30 cents/unit and sell at 7 cents/unit for so long, even when the state makes you.


  • The motley fool had a decent article a few days ago on how the situation is a combination of poorly executed deregulation, NIMBYism (or BANANAism as they call it...Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything), and limits on what fuels can be used. It can be found here. [fool.com]
  • Midland? Pretty?

    Dude, you've been sniffing those Lubbock feed lots too long.

    Don Negro

  • The plants are clean, yes. (Unless there's an accident of course. I was in an area where lots of the radiation from Chernobyl ended up at the time of the accident, not fun. It wasn't fun either to see huge amounts of reindeer and elk meat go to waste. But that will never happen again, never ever.)

    However, the mining of the fuel for nuclear plants is *very* polluting in many ways. And to shrug off the waste as a non-issue is really stupid too.

    As any sane person can understand, the way to go is of course renewable energy sources. It's as simple as that.

  • I like the APC Back-UPS Pro 500. You can only "interact" with it if you have Windows 98 or MacOS and free (non-hub) USB port...
    I don't have the URL anymore, but I have used the Smart-UPS software for Linux (RS-232 version). It's even Network capable. One computer talks to the UPS and tells it's sisters (presumably connected to same UPS) what's happening with the UPS.. You can configure it to allow an admin to test, configure, shut down, etc. over the net. The Windows version is (as I remember) slightly less capable than the Unix version.

    Note: It's probably advantageous to NOT put your monitor on the UPS unless you really need 24/7 access even during an outage. It gives you more reserve time if the power goes out and you're not near the machine. If you actually need to use the monitor, you can plug it in manually (you have a spare flashlight, right?).

    If you're in an office, consider a UPS for the hubs/switches. I've seen an non-UPSed hub cause problems during an outage by cutting a critical (UPSed) machine off from the 'net.

  • by seizer ( 16950 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:05AM (#501290) Homepage
    To me, it seems simple: people want to buy power off the companies. Companies want to sell power to make money. Why the heck can't they sort it out properly?

    Anyway, a typical desktop uses, say 350 watts, which is 252 kwh/month.

    An A/C, or heater (and let's face it, Californians are going to have those on 24/7/365, too) is going to use 4 kw, which is 2880kwh/month.

    Hmm. Why not blame those lazy Californians for wanting a perfect 70 degrees year round, rather than blaming them for wanting deathmatch, year round ;-)
  • Why is it that you have to drive somewhere to get out of the house?

    I walk to my grocery store every time, instead of drive. It's good to get out of the house and stretch out for a bit.

    So, because I have more money because I walked (instead of being a fat lazy ass) the economy benefits.
    [Argument Targetted] *Fire Away* [Splash 1]
    BTW, Conservation would be taking a bus or something similar to your families place.

  • No, that's not it. They had no trouble supplying power with the current number of plants until very recently.

    It's the way they deregulated. They deregulated the wholesale market, but not the retail market. You don't have to be a Harvard MBA to realize that in that situation, the retailers get caught in a squeeze play. In this case, the power company is the retailer, and they are being pushed towards bankruptcy.

    It sticks in my craw when I hear people say "deregulation caused it". That's a half truth, because they only half deregulated.

    They should either re-regulate the wholesale market or deregulate the consumer market. The latter is not likely because just the *threat* of higher consumer costs is enough to bring out protestors.

    This whole thing reminds me of a joke that was told during California's last recession: "will the last one leaving please turn out the lights".

  • Regardless of who's responsible, it's not just California who's being affected by this. They're getting the most attention (as they're the main source of the problem and probably in the most pain right now) but Oregon and Washington are also hurting. I live in Portland and word is that my power bill's going to jump up by a nasty percentage in the coming months. This does not make me happy.

    As for the cause: Aside from the financial problems of California's power plants, much of Oregon and Washington's power comes from hydroelectric and nuclear plants, both of which depend greatly on natural water to generate power (nuclear plants use water for cooling). Recently, we've been getting much less precipitation than usual, so the rivers are lower, which means the hydroelectric plants are generating less power.

    Just the other day, Governor John Kitzhaber of Oregon and Gary Wu of Washington held a press conference in which they warned that rolling blackouts or possible for much of the northwest if the situation doesn't improve.

    Oh, yay.


  • True, there are costs (both monetary and enviornmental) for storage and handling of nuclear waste, but the storage of waste doesn't have to be nearly as bad as we (the US) have made it. The subject of reprocessing is a very controversial one, but there are some potential gains. This also leads to much more transportation of nuclear waste (and more total waste), so it is certainly not very attractive from that standpoint. And, of course, the only thing more scary than the word "Nuclear" is the word "Plutonium" (or maybe "Richard Simmons", but I digress), and since reprocessing is the best way to get plutonium for nuclear weapons... well, there you have it, a Bad Thing(tm).

    I agree that we need to rework the various methods that we use for storage of nuclear waste, but the amount of waste that a fission plant produces and the total enviornmental impact that is has in comparison with a coal plant make it very attractive. The waste products from a coal plant are not attractive in the least, and the amount of coal that needs to be mined and transported can cause a problem (lots of people dislike lots of big, huge trains carrying coal rumbling through their commute even more than they hate a fission plant outside of town.

    Fission power is certainly not the be all and end all of electrical generation, and I don't know very many people who think that, but there are a lot of things that make it more attractive than other forms of power generation. Until we get cheap, sustainable fusion we will continue to argue the cost/benefit ratio of the different power generation methods, and even then...

  • Two points:

    To an economy, money is all that matters [one need only look to most Asain economies, where health or illness of economy seems to have little to do with civil rights]

    This is about consumer rights, namely the right to not be screwed by folks who all say its not their fault. The average person on Cali uses energy pretty much on par with most others in the US [except maybe gasoline due to horrible traffic] so why should they pay so much more? Someone, somewhere got greedy, plain and simple.

  • >Oh well, at least I turn off the monitors.

    Y'know, the interesting part of your post is that it doesn't really matter if the end user shuts down his or her PC. At least not during winter.

    What happens to the 100W that goes into a monitor? It gets turned into heat and dumped into the room. Why do you have a heat sink on your 40W-consuming CPU and 70W Peltier? To dump heat into the PC's case. Why the fans? To dump heat in the case into the room.

    If you're a colo, heat sucks. You've got so many boxen that you need a big AC to cool the room.

    If you're at home in winter, leaving your computer on 24/7 just means you don't need to heat your room as much from external sources.

    And if your home heating is electrical (baseboard heaters, etc.), there's no measurable difference in your power consumption either way. Power off your computer and spend more on your heater, or leave it on and note that the duty cycle of your heater drops a few percent.

    So for those of you in CA with electrical heat in winter, feel free to overclock and leave your monitors on 24/7. USE the heat your boxen generate!

    (My bedroom's about 2-3F warmer when I leave my PC and monitor on all night. And yes, I did spend a couple of weeks, one night with heat, one night without, comparing delta-T of room versus outdoors, to prove it. As always, YMMV. But for me, my 'puter makes pretty good space heater.)

  • You are correct, I should have said that nuclear is the cleanest VIABLE energy source. Hydroelectric, wave, and geothermal can't be deployed everywhere. Solar and wind can't produce enough electricity to meet the demands, and natural gas produces CO2, and since natural gas is a fossil fuel there is only a limited supply. See the current natural gas price averages?

  • Unfortunately the CA utils continue to sell power when there is a slight surplus, only to repurchase power later in the day at a higher rate.

    Well, since you can't generally store power (certainly not in the quantities we're talking about here), the power you sell in the morning is different than the power you purchase in the afternoon. The two aren't really connected.


  • I find it hard to believe that the internet is the cauase for California's power shortages. I read an article about this recently, and was exposed to several other causes for decreasing power surpluses.

    1) Little change in capable output: Over the last twenty or thirty years the U.S. has done very little to increase the technology used in producing electric power, therefore stifling our ability to compete with the growing demands for electric power.

    2) The HUGE increase in high amp appliances. From toatsters, microwaves, washers, dryers, things that nearly every household now has. Its a safe guess that in the last twenty years our average household demand for electricity has risen dramatically. Not inlcuding the internet.

    I don't think that our little low power computers, even in great numbers, have much, if anything, to do with California's,(or anywhere else for that matter) power failures.

  • by Bonker ( 243350 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:08AM (#501310)
    Man, I have never heard such a load of concocted bullshit in all my life. 'The Tech Industry' is responsible for overloading 19th Century era electic lines, as stated in the article.


    What the hell were all the SoCal electric companies doing when the rest of the world was busy upgrading their infrastructure over the last 10 years to cope with the technology boom? Here, in Pissant Amarillo, TX, *all* the utilities have slowly been upgrading their infrastructure. Both SWB and Cox Cable have been putting in fibre lines. SPS Electric has been slowly upgrading their capacity, both in terms of generators, lines and high-tension poles.

    At *some* point, deregulation or no, the SoCal power companies made the decision that upgrading infrastructure would not look good on the bottom line. Rather than use half a coked-up brain cell to figure out that the industry was growing fast and they needed to keep up with it to stay profitable in the future, some power executive chose profit *now* rather than survival *later*.

    This is so damn typical...
  • At *some* point, deregulation or no, the SoCal power companies made the decision that upgrading infrastructure would not look good on the bottom line.

    You need to differentiate between the SoCal utilities and the power generation companies. Per state order, SCE, PG&E, and SDG&E had to sell off most of their generation plants. The state did not want the same companies controlling generation and transmission/distribution (would sort of invalidate the whole 'breaking of the monopoly' thing). The utilities are now acting as middlemen (in a jacked-up sort of way, considering they have to pay massive wholesale prices, but can't pass those costs along to the consumers). The companies now responsible for generation (mostly out of state) did not want to invest in new plants until they were sure they would make money. The high wholesale prices didn't arrive until last year.

    And never underestimate NIMBYism. Every Californian wants the lights to go on when they flip the switch, but they'll fight tooth & nail to keep that new generation plant from going up in their neighborhood...


  • We are not going to return to the caves, so I hope people will just deal with the fact that most people like civilization

    We might return to the caves if we don't conserve and use resources in a way that we can continue using them.
  • Sorry, I was making a broad stereotype to get the point across.

    No, it's true. Sometime in the 70's, there was a mass exodus of chainsaw-toting, fur-coat-wearing nuclear engineers who were forced to drop their Big Macs and run for the Nevada border, towards Area 51.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    Recently I made the move from apartment land to a house and it's amazing the complete change in conservation habits I now keep, especially being reminded of my families utilization every month by way of utility bills. Before I had a 300W halogen blazing away in my living room, along with several table lamps. Now I have two 11W Ikea high efficient lightbulbs (a 92% savings). Before I had it so hot that I'd open windows during the winter to let out heat. Now I have a programmable thermostat that keeps the temperature completely comfortable but while sleeping or at work it drops it down, etc. Before I had my coffee machine going pretty much 24/7. Now I brew a pot and transfer the coffee to a thermos decanter and shut the coffee maker down. Before my three PCs ran 24/7. Now my two workstations go into energy saving mode as soon as possible (without disrupting my work), and they even go to hibernate (a Windows 2000 feature that spools all memory and state to disk allowing for extremely quick restarts with everything exactly as you left) after I haven't used them for an hour. My FreeBSD machine still runs 24/7 though I've removed unnecessary cards and stopped overclocking the processor (Dropping the voltage).

    The point is that by following a few simple tips the power consumption of California, and all of North America for that matter, would drop considerably. I've never taken the time to get the metrics and do the math, but I have no doubt that it's considerable. Anyways here's a couple of tips that personally I think are crucially important. Not only will it ease the power crunch, it'll slow the rate of us using using resources and damaging the environment. You don't have to be a "tree hugger" to realize that if coal is being burned for absolutely no reason like old technology lights that isn't too smart.

    • Replace all lightbulbs in your house with the new energy saving kind which are generally about 6x more efficient than incandescents. These lightbulbs can be had in a variety of forms similar to traditional lightbulbs at retailers such as Ikea (which has a superb selection in my area). They cost a bit more upfront, but they last from 6-10x longer, produce whiter nicer light, and they consume as mentioned 6x less power for a given lumen output (i.e. an 11W puts out equal lumens to a 60W incandescent). This also saves considerable energy during the summer when the air conditioner is fighting against all the heat produced by a dozen incandescent lightbulbs running in your home. A small upfront capital cost that quickly pays for itself in energy savings, saves up to 10 traditional light bulbs from being thrown in landfills, and it doesn't reduce quality of life whatsoever.
    • If you have a coffee maker with a heating element after it brews transfer it to a thermos, or get a coffee maker that brews into an unheated insulated carafe. This may seem like a hassle, however your taste buds will quickly thank you! Coffee in an airtight thermos tastes great hours later, like it was just brewed (try it). Coffee that sits on a heating element slowly burns and tastes worse and worse.
    • Configure the power saving features of your PC. Windows 2000 supports hibernate which, if all your device drivers support it, can allow you to save the energy without inconvenience. Every major operating system can utilize the power saving features of todays PCs.
    • No brainers : Don't stand with the fridge open gawking in. On the same line if cooking keep from opening the oven to the minimum. Both tips will give you better food that cooks or keeps better, and it saves CONSIDERABLE electricity. Fridges are one of the worse culprits for power consumption.
    • Although these are usually covered by natural gas rather than electricity, it's the same idea: Get a programmable thermostat to drop the temperature when you're at work or sleeping (indeed a lower temperature makes most people sleep a lot better), or conversely to raise it during the summer. As most of us are tech workers our clothes stay pretty clean, so wash them in cold water.

    The point of all of this is that you can save massive amounts of electricity, and this will be reflected on your electric bill, without sacrificing quality of life. I'm not talking about becoming a hermit in a room with a candle, but rather doing simple things that are transparent good practice habits. A lot of people are wasteful out of habit, not because it improves their life in any way.

    Any other tips?

  • "Some analysts, bolstered by a study declaring that the Internet is responsible for fully 8 percent of all national electricity consumption, assert that the Net itself is responsible for spiking demand to unprecedented heights. The new economy, it seems, is an energy hog. Never mind that other researchers have debunked the 8 percent figure as absurdly inflated. President-elect George W. Bush has already touted it in discussing his energy policy. What better reason could there be to allow oil drilling and coal mining in virgin wildernesses than the need to keep the Net running?" So we have at worst 8 percent since when does that count as a huge percentage. I mean come on people we could increase 8 percent with just a couple of reactors. Get with the program.
  • by jovlinger ( 55075 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @08:03AM (#501321) Homepage
    Every time I read about enviromental concerns and proposed legislated conservation, I have to add my canned opinon to the fray:

    the problem is one of economics. Adam Smith had it pegged thousands of years ago (well, almost). It is the tradgedy of the commons. Basically, power generation is too cheap because it fails to pay for its impact on the environment (the commons in this case).

    Likewise, driving your car is too cheap because burning gasoline doesn't pay for its use of the commons.

    Instead of conservation, price these goods (by eco-tax) so that their true costs on everyone is reflected in their price. Then the market can decide whether it is better to conserve or exploit.

    Of course, this all assumes that we can accurately and unbiasadly asses the cost to the e commons for all these resources.
  • We can solve the lack of powerplants issue quickly - any community can veto a power plant in their area - in exchange the community goes to the top of a list - that community will be taken off the grid BEFORE any rolling blackouts occur. They stay at the top of the list until another community NIMBYs a powerplant. After 15 or 20 years, they fall off the list. That should put a stop to NIMBYing most decent projects. A safeguard should be added to prevent rediculous power plant proposals - ie trying to build a small plant in the middle of a highly developed neighborhood...

    my .02

  • Efficiency and Conservation are not the same thing, but they are related things. I bought a new car last summer, it goes farther on the same amount of gas, thus it is more efficiant that the old one, but it also allows me to use less gas and therefore conserve.

    Similarly instead of making a dedicated trip to the store I could go on my way home from work, which has the effect of making me more efficient and conserving a bit of gas. Or I could run several errands all at once, again saving gas and time.

    The cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • by Zachary Kessin ( 1372 ) <zkessin@gmail.com> on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:09AM (#501325) Homepage Journal
    Yes in this case blaming deregulation is probably correct because it was done in a brain dead fashion that means that the power companies have to sell electricity for a fixed price while buying it on an open market.

    And Conservation is at least *PART* of the answer. Yes more plants are needed but if we could reduce the rate at which they are needed by 2% it would help a hell of a lot.

    And face it a room full of servers use a lot of power.

    The cure of the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.

  • This is stupid.

    California's power problems are not a problem with production, but with finances. It is true that California hasn't built in state power plants in over ten years, but that is not the problem ... California utilities (including LA's DWP which is *thriving* in this crisis by selling its surplus) have owned out of state power generation capacity since before deregulation.

    The problem is that the two big utilities companies orchestrated a stupid STUPID deregulation plan, and it has now come back and bitten them in the ass and they can't pay for power they've already used much less power they will need.

    They agreed to sell off their power production facilities, buy power from the people they sold their facilities to through a poorly organized exchange. Believing that capitalism was some magic wand, they believed that prices would magically drop, so they agreed to consumer price caps.

    Now that the power producers are selling them power from the facilities they built at 10 to 100 (yes one hundred!) times the prices two years ago, they are starting to realize that the whole deregulation and divestment and price caps and 'let the market set the rates' plan was stupid and they are asking the taxpayers of California (not the big-business power consumers) to pay the bills.

    Again. There is no power shortage. Few states produce all the power they need. Most buy production from other states. There was a botched deregulation, and poor finaancial planning by two utilities companies who are more willing to default and declare bankrupcy than pass the expense of their decisions on to their parent companies.

    California's problems lie with stupid CFOs and corrupt politicians.

  • Maybe you should unplug those electric chairs of yours?
  • Having just moved away from California (and thank gawd!), I was able to see a lot of local news shows and newspapers about the power crisis. There's a lot of fingerpointing going on, except all in the wrong direction.

    The public is unwilling to realize that they are the problem. I saw a city of San Diego official come on TV last summer and tell her constituents only to "pay what is fair". I don't think I have ever seen such an irresponsible act from any public official ever (in my short and naive 26 years). What does she think? Is the electricity fairy going to come down from heaven and make everything right?

    I happened to catch a bit on CNBC (financial television channel) yesterday about the stage three emergency delclared by either the state or Southern California Edison (power company). The reporter said that the emergency was declared for financial reasons and not because there is an actual shortage of supply. SoCalEd also is putting off making an interest payment on a bond they have outstanding (read: that doesn't happen unless the company is in trouble).

    Californians think they can just have the power companies bail them out until the current crisis is over. Well, it will never be over, because the power companies can not make any money, because the citizens won't let them make any money. So, thus, SoCalEd cannot afford to increase production, build power plants, etc.

    Not only that, no one wants to get into the market there, because they cannot make any money. So then there's not competition.

    And now they're all screaming that the power companies are taking advantage of the "high fuel prices" to make a quick buck off of the public.

    All I can say to California. You reap what you sow...

  • by bughunter ( 10093 ) <bughunter@@@earthlink...net> on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @12:12PM (#501348) Journal
    Somebody got their $11 Billion and is laughing all the way to the bank.

    Are you in California? If so, take a look at Dynegy, Inc. [dynegy.com] - one of those somebodys. Specifically, Dynegy is threatening to sue YOUR power company because they can't charge you enough to pay what Dynegy charged them for wholesale power.

    Of course, this slick, marketing produced website hides the fact that this company's business model is one of the most unethical in the modern economy: buy up power plants amidst state deregulation, and then throttle back the supply to the point of crisis, thereby driving up prices to extraordinary levels, and then suing utility companies [cnn.com] who by law can't pass on these costs to their customers. This is as ethically bankrupt as the OPEC and DeBeers cartels and their manipulation of supply. Worse, because it threatens to pull the plug on business and industry. Electricity supplies, unlike oil and luxury supplies, are all or nothing.

    If you're a Californian, especially an influential lawmaker or businessperson, I recommend you send a nice little note to Dynegy [dynegy.com] and remind them that as the holder of a corporate license, they still have a moral and ethical responsibility to this nation and its people. And you might also want to mention that if they don't back off, they just might find their California facilities in the hands of the Governor, who has promised to exercise his powers of Eminient Domain if this crisis can't be resolved by playing nice.

  • by ninjalex ( 60059 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:06AM (#501351)
    SDG&E (distributor) is owned by Sempra Energy(Producer). Sempra Energy sells wholesale power to SDG&E. While SDG&E whines about losing money, Sempra dramatically increases it's profits. As I see it Sempra is raping its subsidary company until SDG&E is allowed to increase prices, at which time Sempra will make even more money.

    Funny how back in july when my power bill(for 525KwH) was over $150 they were reporting 34% growth. Now that retail prices have been capped, Sempra is still projecting higher earnings [sempra.com].

    Add to all this, last week when CA had a state stage 3 emergency(power reserves drop below 2% of availble power) 1 THIRD of California's production capacity was off line for "routine maintenance or other factors."

    It's not about low production, it's about greed.

  • by AstynaxX ( 217139 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:10AM (#501363) Homepage
    If you happen to live within walking distance of a store, great, not everyone does. Beside that, you can only carry so much [getting my weekly groceries up to my 3rd floor place is rough enough, if I had to carry them home I'd die of exhaustion], meaning either less gets bought in total, or more is wasted since more exercise from more frequent trips to the store means more food consumption, so you waste either way.

    And there is no bus to my family being 100 miles away [the nearest possibility would be train at $40 a ticket, then another local train for about $5. At $45 total, I may be conserving gas, but I'm blowing a whole lot of money, so its lose either way]

  • by Sodium Attack ( 194559 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @08:18AM (#501381)
    Here is a critique [reason.com] of California's "deregulation" of the power industry.
  • by WillSeattle ( 239206 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @09:19AM (#501391) Homepage
    Hey, Easterner, the entire West Coast is on power saving cutbacks - Washington, Oregon, California. That's 25 percent of the population of this country and more than half of the high tech areas. That's half of the broadband service customers.

    That's like George Bush saying the West supports him, when he lost in all three Western states. Nobody lives in the rest of that area you call the West - I know, I grew up back east in the Rockies.

    That aside, the problem is not so much deregulation as a combination of rate wheeling (the stupidist idea since unsliced bread) and forced divestiture of power plants from power companies. This was a train wreck waiting to happen, paid for by idiots who've never had to switch a high voltage circuit in their lives. I used to be a Power Engineer, and did my best to keep Washington State from going down the drain with those turkeys, and just barely managed to pull it off. But now we get to provide power for those Californians in the middle of our low power generation capacity period, when it gets a bit cold up here and we can't run the dams flat out.

    If it weren't for the fact that Washington and Oregon have put online many megajoules in wind energy over the last couple of years, California would be freezing in the dark right now. That plus the natural gas turbines we bought in anticipation of shortages ...

  • by American AC in Paris ( 230456 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:15AM (#501402) Homepage
    The article cites several times that the overall increase in energy consumption was lower in the late 1990's than it was in the 1980's. The article also mentions that a small army of independant researchers have blasted the notion that the 'net is responsible for some 8% of national power consumption. If the Internet becomes the Scapegoat du Jour for California's embarrasing little energy crisis, it'll be quite the win for the forces of FUD.

    information wants to be expensive...nothing is so valuable as the right information at the right time.

  • by the real jeezus ( 246969 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:24AM (#501477)

    Okay, about six years ago the Clinton administration came up with this irie Energy Star rating that is given to products with low-power mode capabilities. It seems that computers everywhere, especially in California, would switch their monitors (which consume 200 - 500 watts) into low power mode after a reasonable period of idleness. Take a few hundred watts per household, plus many thousands of watts per office, and there's a large amount of power wasted on keeping picture tubes warm.

    However, the makers of the most popular consumer operating system in the world (and that's not an endorsement) do not have the low-power mode enabled by default; therefore, only true nerds and relatives/friends/s.o.'s of said nerds have their low-power monitor setting enabled!

    Think about it--no one (but nerds, etc...) explores MS's non-default options. Look at the proliferation of j03 5cr1p7 k17713 who takes advantage of the enabled-by-default Windows Scripting Host and wreaks havoc across the internet.

    The Energy Star thing is an example of a great idea that suffered from poor implementation. I see that the solution is to integrate the setting into the monitor and leave it on by default.

    I'd rather be a unix freak than a freaky eunuch
  • by mrfiddlehead ( 129279 ) <mrfiddlehead@yahoo.c o . uk> on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:35AM (#501483) Homepage
    Besides which the author of the salon article goes to fairly great lengths to show that the 8% claim is a load of horsehooey (sp?). The guys who came up with that figure guestimated that the average network computer consumes 1000W of power when all the routers/switches and servers are figured into the equation.

    What's the average power consumption of a computer on a network? Assuming that it's always on and that it is configured to use its power saving features one can probably assume that it consumes on average about 166W (back of the envelope calculation for 8 hours of usage per day - 500W * 8/24 = 166W). That's well below 1000W. I don't claim that these figures are anything more than guestimates but I think my figures are less than conservative.

    What's the power consumption of a 48 port cisco network switch? I have some cisco 3548 XL switches that consume about 150W (AFAIR) so that means we add 3W per workstation to the power cost.

    If we assume that the per workstation power consumption cost decreases the further we get from the workstation, on the network, then we can probably more safely arrive at an average networked power consumption of 350 to 400 Watts.

    These guys Mills and Huber (Hubris?) are suits. Their only agenda is finding a scapegoat so that the politicians will agree to build more power plants. Either that or they're just lackwits.

  • by AstynaxX ( 217139 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:40AM (#501523) Homepage
    Conservation is bad for an emconomy my friend. More conservation means less spending, which means less income for companies, which means lower stock prices, etc. As a practicle example:

    Say I conserve gas by driving half as much as before, that means roughly half the gas consumption, leading to lost revenue for the gas companies. It also means I am outside my home less, which leads to lsot revenues for any places I might impulse shop [computer stores, video stores, fast food, other restaraunts, clothing stores, book stores, etc, etc.]. Now if hundreds of people do this, that s a serious lowering of consumer spending, which will scare the hell out of Wall St. , and so on.

  • by Bearpaw ( 13080 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:40AM (#501552)
    How about some numbers? That kinda bullshit hyperbole is what makes me want to bitch-slap environmentalists these days.

    That's pretty funny, given that Dubya has jumped on the numbers given to help justify suggesting more drilling and mining in supposedly protected areas.

    In any case, it wouldn't take a huge percentage increase over forecasts to cause problems, especially during peak use periods.

  • by TheSync ( 5291 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:44AM (#501556) Journal
    As many posters have noted, the California power problem has far more to do with government regulation of power than of Internet use. In a nutshell, California is the tip of the iceberg, there has been a nationwide slowdown in building large generation plants in the last 20 years, mostly for NIBMY and environmental reasons. Small plants and co-gens have been built, but they are not providing the increase in base power required. See:

    The Electricity Blame Game [cato.org]

    The Deregulation of the Electricity Industry: A Primer [cato.org]

    Congress and Electricity [cato.org]

    The last article, written in 1998, suggested that as Congress look at electricity de-regulation, that it NOT follow the Californian model, for these reasons:

    The short answer is that politicians rather than market forces designed the restructured California electricity system. Politicians, while paying lip service to deregulation and the magic of the market, could not bring themselves to simply let go of the industry. Reflecting the fear of both consumer activists and electric utilities that real markets would prove disastrous, the California legislature placed constraints on the restructured industry whose net effect was to stifle the very forces necessary to drive down California's utility rates. Consumer choice thus became a meaningless exercise.

  • by ptomblin ( 1378 ) <ptomblin@xcski.com> on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:45AM (#501558) Homepage Journal
    I have 5 computers at home, and I used to turn off all but the server and the ip_masq firewall when I wasn't using them. But now I'm in competition with friends to have the most seti@home units completed (2761 so far) so I leave them all on.

    Oh well, at least I turn off the monitors.
  • by Tower ( 37395 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @06:46AM (#501559)
    Most of the problem is that the (and I say this with the utmost respect) stupid tree-hugging, nuke-fearing, tofu-eating, fur coat-painting enviornmentalists won't let anyone build the safest and cleanest method of power generation... nuclear plants. They should realize that despite their good intentions, they are eventually making things worse...

    from http://www.civicsandpolitics.com/power.html

    "To begin with, radical environmentalists have caused such onerous regulation of the state's power industry, that no new power plants have been built in quite a few years. Additionally, these same regulations have forced certain older power plants to shut down because they have reached the maximum amount of pollution that they are allowed to emit in a given year. Of course, there's nuclear power, which is clean, but unreasonable fears have caused the closure of several nuclear power plants."

    The deregulation also screwed things up royally, but it woudn't be nearly as bad if people could build new, efficient power plants...
  • by Danse ( 1026 ) on Wednesday January 17, 2001 @11:39AM (#501563)

    If the general idea of deregulation is to lower costs to consumers, why deregulate when it doesn't seem to have the desired effect? What was wrong with the regulated market that we have had for so long. It seemed to provide the power at a pretty good price to consumers. Why change?

"I prefer the blunted cudgels of the followers of the Serpent God." -- Sean Doran the Younger