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California Struggles to Keep Energy Supply During Heat Wave


California has been enduring days of consecutive record heat that is forcing mandatory conservation from citizens.

The state’s emergency response and efforts by large energy users, energy producers, and California residents have helped to prevent outages during this extreme heat event, and even greater action will be needed in the days ahead as the state faces peak temperatures. Californians’ action to conserve energy during the Flex Alert saved 1,000 megawatts of power. California needs an additional 2,000 megawatts of savings given higher forecasts, and everyone needs to play a part. Many state buildings will power down lights and air conditioning beginning at 4:00 p.m. to save energy. The state has also taken other urgent actions to bring more power onto the grid, including importing energy from out-of-state, installing emergency generators, and creating a Strategic Reliability Reserve.

“Californians have stepped up in a big way during this record heat wave, but with the hottest temperatures here now, the risk of outages is real. We all have to double down on conserving energy to reduce the unprecedented strain on the grid,” said Governor Newsom. “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.” 

The emergency alert was declared to help the grid secure more supplies and urge market participants to lower demand on the system. The state and much of the West are enduring a historically long and record-breaking heat wave, straining the grid from high electricity use.

As grid conditions worsened, energy supplies were determined to be insufficient to cover demand and reserves, and an EEA 3 was declared. Controlled power outages are now imminent or in the process according to each utility’s emergency plan.

The peak electricity demand is currently forecast at more than 52,000 megawatts (MW), a new historic all-time high for the grid, as the state endured the hottest day in this prolonged, record-breaking heat wave.

If needed, ISO could order utilities to begin rotating power outages to maintain the stability of the electric grid. If that occurs, consumers should expect communications – either phone, text, or email – from their utilities notifying them of outage areas and likely durations.

Rotating power outages, or small-scale, contained, controlled interruptions in power, can help maintain reliability and avoid cascading blackouts. When the ISO determines that supplies are not sufficient to meet demand, it can issue an EEA 3, and then if reserves are exhausted, it would order utilities to begin outages to bring demand back in line with available supplies.

Power interruptions are kept as brief as possible and utilities rotate them through their customer base so that no one area has prolonged outages. Utilities determine how best to spread and rotate the outages across their customer base, intending to limit their duration as much as possible.

For two days in August 2020, planned outages affecting about 800,000 homes and businesses lasted anywhere from 15 minutes to about 21⁄2 hours, marking the first time outages were ordered in California due to insufficient supplies in nearly 20 years.

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