Californians Lose Power in Triple-Digit Temperatures


The recent extreme heat wave in the West was yet another vivid reminder of the vulnerability of the nation's electrical grids. There's only so much power the grids can generate – and that's when they're working perfectly. Heat waves put too much demand on the system.

In today's News4Patriots, I'll tell you how severe conditions were in California and what residents were asked to do to keep the grid functioning. As well as reminding you that blackouts can occur at any time… and in any situation.    

When a heat wave takes a grip on an area of the country and doesn't let go for an entire week – as it did in the West earlier this month – people and the infrastructure suffer. 

Government officials must decide whether to launch rolling blackouts so that the grid doesn't completely collapse.

People already sweltering then lose power for at least several hours. Often during the hottest part of the day.

This is much more than an inconvenience. It's a safety issue, especially for children and the elderly. When the grid is down, there's no escaping extreme heat.  

Demand Exceeds Supply

How high were the record-breaking temperatures? In Sacramento, California's capital, the temperature reached 116 degrees. It was 110 in Fresno, 117 in Fairfield and 108 in San Jose. Plus 107 in Las Vegas, Nevada and Salt Lake City, Utah, and 101 in Grand Junction, Colorado.

Across six states, 52 million people were under extreme heat warnings and advisories. More than 500,000 Californians were warned their power could be cut off at any time to avoid a grid meltdown. Power was also cut off in six Oregon counties due to high winds.

Tens of thousands did lose power, mostly in the Bay Area. People were seen sitting outdoors with bags of ice on their heads and popsicles in their mouths. Others flocked to the beaches, spending most of their time in the water.

California Governor Gavin Newsome tweeted, "These triple-digit temperatures throughout much of our state are leading, not surprisingly, to record demand on the energy grid."

Emergency Alerts on the Rise

In California, emergency energy alerts (EEA) come in three tiers. EEA level 1 is used when real-time analysis shows all resources are in use or committed for use, and energy deficiencies are expected.

EEA 2 occurs when the ISO (Independent System Operator Corporation) requests emergency energy from all resources and activates its emergency demand response program.

EEA 3 is issued when the ISO is unable to meet minimum contingency reserve requirements and controlled power curtailments are imminent or in progress according to each utility's emergency plan.

ISO President Elliot Mainzer said that conservation of the use of the grid would be "absolutely essential" to keep it running. And that could only be accomplished with citizen cooperation and/or rolling blackouts.  

Grid 'Pushed to Its Max' 

During the first week of this month, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) was bracing for "a new, historic all-time high for the grid." The demand was predicted to be 52,000 megawatts.

Newsome urged his state's residents to voluntarily limit their power consumption. And prepare for rotating outages.

"Californians have stepped up in a big way during this record heat wave," Newsome said. "We all have to double down on conserving energy to reduce the unprecedented strain on the grid.

"Our energy grid is being pushed to its max. We need everyone – individuals, businesses, the state and energy producers – to do their part in the coming days and help California continue to meet this challenge." 

Public Cooperation Requested 

Specifically, people were asked to raise their thermostats to 78 degrees or higher. And to turn off unnecessary lights.

They were also advised to avoid using electrical appliances as much as possible. And keep their blinds and drapes closed. 

Those owning electric cars – which have been recommended to drivers in order to cut energy usage – were asked to avoid charging them during peak hours.

Adding to the extreme heat from the sun was heat from wildfires. Including the Fairview Fire in Southern California and two others near the Oregon border. They've killed at least four people, destroyed more than 100 homes and forced thousands to evacuate.

Taking Help Wherever It's Available 

California's electric grid runs on a combination of solar energy and natural gas during the day. As well as with the assistance of some imported energy from other states.

In the late afternoon and early evening, solar power falls off. Unfortunately, that's also often the hottest part of the day.

Compounding the problem is that some of the aging natural gas plants the state depends on for backup power are not as reliable in hot weather. 

The state was even employing four emergency power generators from the Department of Water Resources in northern California to help.

Blackouts Are Always Looming

The worst of the heat wave in the West is over. But it's just a matter of time before it happens again. There or elsewhere.

And that's what we all have to remember. Blackouts – whether planned or not – can occur anytime and anywhere. And we never know how long they're going to last.

As always, preparedness is the key. No matter where you live, please don't get caught off guard. 

Leave a comment

*Required Fields