Heat waves are nothing new to California. Nor are the occasional rolling blackouts they produce when demand for power is too high for the system to keep up.
But with heat records falling nearly every year, and ever more people and houses and air-conditioning units in the Golden State plugging into the state's electric grid, it means rethinking some of our power-using ways. If not, we may find ourselves in the dark more than is pleasant or safe.
Starting now. On Thursday, Los Angeles broke a record for electricity usage — 6,502 megawatts. For context, on a typical day, it takes 1 megawatt to power 1,000 homes. I'm not surprised since my A/C, like that so many fellow Angelenos, was pumping its little heart out all night long despite being set to the recommended 78 degrees. The city could break Thursday's record Friday.
The state may set a record as well. The Independent System Operator, which oversees the state's electric grid, forecasts a peak of 50,860 megawatts on Friday, breaking a record of 50,270 set in 2006.
To avoid that, the group issued a flex alert warning that if electricity usage is above the ability of the ISO to supply it, rolling blackouts will be ordered for most of the state's utilities. (The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power is not subject to the ISO's rolling blackout orders, but the municipal utilities in Pasadena, Riverside and other places are)
No one wants that. It's not just unpleasant, it's dangerous. Extreme heat kills people and animals. On Friday afternoon, temperatures in many places around California are expected to reach triple digits — and many coastal areas will have higher-than-normal temperatures ( 104 in San Francisco! That's an all-time high for the City by the Bay, according to the National Weather Service). Thousands of lightly used A/C units will be clicking on at the same time.
So for heaven's sake, let's do what we can to help keep them on. Go turn something off that doesn't need to be on — do it right now. Even if it's just one light or appliance in standby mode, every bit of power saved will ease the strain on the power grid and help avoid the thing we all dread most: that soul-destroying sound of the A/C cutting out.
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