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    California heat wave puts power grid at risk of collapse


    September 6, 2022 - CE Noticias Financieras

     

      California declared a power grid emergency Monday as a scorching and sustained heat wave threatens to push the state's electrical system beyond its limit.

      With millions of homes and businesses running air conditioners to cope with temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43.3 Celsius), electricity use in the largest U.S. state is forecast to reach the highest level since 2017, raising the specter of rolling blackouts.

      "Rolling blackouts are a possibility today," said Elliot Mainzer, executive director of the California Independent System Operator, known as Caiso, which manages the state's power grid. To avoid blackouts, consumers will have to increase conservation two or three times, Mainzer said Monday during a news conference.

      "We're now moving into the extreme part of this heat wave, and really stepping up those actions will be essential to maintaining reliability," Mainzer said. If voluntary conservation measures are not sufficient on Monday, Caiso will declare a Level 2 grid emergency, which would free up more generation supplies, he said. Rolling blackouts would be used as a last resort.

      The prospect of blackouts underscores how grids have become vulnerable to extreme weather as they shift from fossil fuels to renewables. California has aggressively shut down natural gas power plants in recent years, leaving the state increasingly dependent on solar farms that shut down late in the day just as electricity demand peaks. At the same time, the state is enduring its worst drought in 1,200 years, undermining hydroelectric power production.

      Much of California is under an excessive heat warning for the next four days. Sacramento could reach 113 on Monday and 115 on Tuesday breaking records for those days, said Bob Oravec, senior meteorologist at the U.S. Weather Prediction Center. Downtown Los Angeles reached 103 on Sunday, which was the first time the temperature exceeded 100 this year.

      California officials said the state could break the all-time record for power demand on Tuesday, when students return to classrooms and businesses reopen after the long holiday weekend. In addition, hot, dry conditions across the state will leave it vulnerable to wildfires.

      The heat wave, which began the last week of August, is notable for both its ferocity and duration, officials said.

      With each passing day of heat, the risk of power outages increases. Scorching temperatures seep into concrete over time, making it increasingly difficult to cool buildings. And the longer power plants run at full speed, the more likely they are to break down.

      Ahead of the heat wave, California Governor Gavin Newsom issued an emergency proclamation to free up additional power supplies.

      The struggle to keep power flowing in California is complicated by wildfires near Los Angeles and San Diego that threaten transmission lines and power plants, although there were no major outages as of Sunday afternoon, Mainzer said.

      A break in the heat will reach Southern California later this week, thanks to Tropical Storm Kay in the Pacific Ocean, Oravec said.

      Kay, which is forecast to become a hurricane later this week, is forecast to skirt the coast of Mexico's Baja California peninsula. As it moves northward, the storm will pump moisture and clouds into Southern California and Arizona, reducing the heat.

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