Chance of power outages in California as heat wave worsens
California’s chances of power outages will increase in the coming days as the state prepares for the most brutal part of an ongoing heat wave yet, officials said Sunday.
Energy demand is expected to outpace supply as of Monday night, and forecasts for Tuesday show the state could match its record high for electricity, said Elliot Mainzer, president and chief executive officer of the California Independent System Operator.
“This is about to get significantly more intense,” Mainzer told reporters.
The system operator is responsible for managing and maintaining the reliability of the electrical grid, a challenging task during hot weather, when the demand for energy rises as people crank up their air conditioners.
Grid operators have several options available before the power goes out, such as tapping backup generators, buying more power from other states, and using so-called demand response programs, where people are paid to use less energy. But to keep the lights on, Californians must also continue to save as they have been, even as the temperature rises.
Most of California’s 39 million residents have to deal with extremely hot weather. Temperatures in the Central Valley are expected to be as high as 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) for several days. In Los Angeles, meanwhile, temperatures hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius), unusually warm temperatures for September.
Energy officials and utility companies have been urging people since Wednesday to use less power from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. by keeping air conditioners at 25.5 degrees Celsius or higher and avoiding the use of large appliances such as ovens and dishwashers. Thanks to these so-called flex-alerts, the grid operator has been able to keep the light on until now.
On Saturday night, the state used about 44,000 megawatts of electricity, Mainzer said. By Tuesday, that should rise to more than 50,000 megawatts, approaching the 2006 record level of energy consumption. But the state would rather curb demand to avoid that number than test the power grid’s ability to respond.
“Our goal is to make sure we don’t hit that number,” Mainzer said.
During the day, California’s power grid runs on a mix of mostly solar and natural gas, as well as some imports of power from other states. But solar energy begins to decline during the late afternoon and evening, which is the hottest time of the day in some parts of the state.
Meanwhile, some of the aging natural gas plants California relies on for backup power aren’t as reliable in hot weather. By Sunday afternoon, three of the state’s coastal power plants were partially down, though they make up only a small part of the state’s supply, officials said.
At the same time, some hydropower resources are limited by drought. Dry conditions and heat hit California as the state moves into what is traditionally the worst of the fire season, with large fires already burning and turning deadly. Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the past three decades and that the weather will continue to make more extremes and wildfires more frequent and destructive.
Hundreds of thousands of Californians lost power due to blackouts in August 2020 amid hot weather. The state avoided a similar scenario last summer. Newsom signed legislation Friday that would allow the state’s last remaining nuclear power plant to remain open after its planned 2025 shutdown to ensure more power for the power grid.
On Sunday night, nuclear power accounted for about 5% of California’s energy supply.
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