California says brace for blackouts as heat wave drives record power use

Published on Sep 07, 2022 06:12 AM IST

With power demand soaring to an all-time high, the state’s grid operator warned residents to prepare for controlled outages as temperatures soared above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) across much of California.

The Fairview Fire burns near Hemet, California, US, September 6, 2022.(REUTERS/David Swanson)
The Fairview Fire burns near Hemet, California, US, September 6, 2022.(REUTERS/David Swanson)
Bloomberg |

California raised the emergency status of the state’s electrical system to the highest possible level amid a blistering heat wave, which means rolling blackouts are imminent.

With power demand soaring to an all-time high, the state’s grid operator warned residents to prepare for controlled outages as temperatures soared above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 Celsius) across much of California. The state’s largest power company, PG&E Corp., said in a statement that it had notified about 525,000 homes and businesses that they could lose power for up to two hours.

Electricity use reached 51 gigawatts Tuesday, easily breaking a record that stood since 2006, according to the California Independent System Operator.

“We are heading into the worst part of this heat wave, and the risk for outages is real and it’s immediate,” Governor Gavin Newsom said in a video posted Tuesday on Twitter.

Newsom signed an executive order Tuesday extending until Friday emergency measures to free up additional power supplies, measures that had been set to expire Wednesday. He also ordered many state buildings to power down lights and air conditioning at 4 pm, and he urged residents and businesses to conserve the equivalent of 3 gigawatts of power in order to stave off blackouts.

“This is going to be so dicey,” Michael Wara, director of Stanford University’s climate and energy policy program, said earlier in the day. “There’s a gap for two hours in the evening right now between available supply and projected demand.”

The most populous US state avoided rolling outages from the blistering temperatures Monday, though higher readings Tuesday further tested the network with electrical demand set to climb as schools and businesses reopened after the Labor Day holiday.

The prospect of outages underscores how grids have become vulnerable in the face of extreme weather as they transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. California has aggressively closed natural-gas power plants in recent years, leaving the state increasingly dependent on solar farms that go dark late in the day just as electricity demand peaks. At the same time, the state is enduring the Southwest’s worst drought in 1,200 years, sapping hydropower production.

The energy warnings come as much of California remains under an excessive heat warning through Friday. The heat wave, which began in the last week of August, is remarkable in both its ferocity and duration, according to officials. Sacramento on Tuesday was forecast to have a high near 115 degrees Fahrenheit (46 degrees Celsius) -- a degree hotter than Monday, which was a record for that date.

“We’re looking at a lot of records today,” said Bob Oravec, a senior branch forecaster at the US Weather Prediction Center. “They are having a lot of issues with power out there, and this isn’t going to help.”

The average 15-minute wholesale power price in Caiso surged to $1806 at 4:45 pm local time, according to the grid operator’s website.

A break from the heat will come across Southern California later this week, thanks to Tropical Storm Kay in the Pacific Ocean, Oravec said. Kay is forecast to edge up the coastline of Mexico’s Baja California peninsula. As it moves north, the storm will pump moisture and clouds into Southern California and Arizona, taking an edge off the heat.

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