David R. Baker, Brian K. Sullivan and Mark Chediak | Bloomberg
Californians once greeted hot summers by blowing up air conditioners and filling the swimming pool. Not anymore.
Beaten down by drought and heat waves straining the power grid, the Golden State is asking residents to settle for less water and electricity, just when they really want to use both. It’s an uncomfortable new normal for a state celebrating summer.
Power grid managers have sent urgent calls in three of the past four days, begging residents to reduce their electricity use to avoid blackouts. And these calls are becoming a standard part of summer, as residents are forced to adapt their lifestyles to climate change.
“Customer retention, frankly, will be the biggest variable this summer between whether or not you can avoid spin-out failures,” said Elliot Mainzer, general manager of the independent system operator of California, which manages most of it. from the grid. He warned that the situation could last for several years.
Meanwhile, Gov. Gavin Newsom is calling on the state to use 15% less water as reservoirs shrink. He urged Californians to revert to conservation strategies they adopted during the state’s last major drought, from 2011 to 2017. While residential consumption in the state is 15% below 2011 levels , he said people cannot use water as freely as they have in the past.
“The sober reality is that we are there again,” Newsom said Thursday as he stood in front of the Lake Lopez reservoir in San Luis Obispo County, which was at 34% capacity. Drought in the western United States is also worsening the electricity situation, with hydro generation in California and the Pacific Northwest expected to fall 11% this year.
Twin seizures are deeply intertwined. Climate change fueled this summer’s historic heatwaves, scientists say, with Las Vegas, Portland, Seattle and Salt Lake City matching or exceeding their hottest temperatures ever, according to the US Weather Prediction Center.
In California, the heat quickly melted the Sierra Nevada’s snowpack and a drought-parched landscape drank it down before it could flow into the state’s largest reservoirs, leaving them lower. than normal.
And the massive Bootleg Fire in Oregon destroyed or threatened some crucial power transmission lines connecting California to the Pacific Northwest, forcing the state to import electricity from elsewhere.
The blaze is one of dozens of large fires that burn across states from Montana to Arizona, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. With at least 863,000 acres in flames, satellite photos show smoke covering much of the west.
California’s excessive heat is expected to ease Tuesday after another round of scorching days, according to the National Weather Service. The peak in Sacramento is expected to be almost exactly in line with normal readings for this time of year, although some heat warnings remained in effect for the southern deserts of the state and some areas near the Oregon border. .
California’s fight against climate change, ironically, has also played a key role in the power supply crunch. As the state switches to solar and wind power, so many traditional power plants have closed that the electricity supply becomes strained as the sun sets. Large batteries are plugged into the grid to compensate, but many will not work until later this year.
“For a century, consumers have really dealt with their electricity when they turn on the lights and foot the bill, and that’s a pretty limited commitment,” said Cisco DeVries, CEO of OhmConnect Inc., a software provider. which helps people manage their power consumption. But now people realize that they have to change their relationship with the way they receive and use power. “We have absolutely entered a new paradigm related to electricity, grid and consumers. “
California’s ISO once again called on consumers to reduce their electricity consumption Monday afternoon and evening. The biggest crisis usually occurs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. local time. These are some of the hottest hours of the day, as well as when the solar power starts to wear off.
California officials have acknowledged that consumer retention has helped prevent outages this year, but it remains to be seen how well the tactic will work in the long term.
“The more you do, the less efficient it will be,” said Michael Wara, director of the climate and energy policy program at Stanford University. The state, he said, needs the right incentives to get people to retain when needed. “The way you make people behave is to pay them for it or charge them less,” Wara said.
For years, California utilities have been slowly shifting most customers to hour-of-use rates, which charge higher prices when demand for electricity peaks in the late afternoon and evening. . And state officials have aired TV commercials this year urging Californians to “turn off the power” between 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., in hopes of making conservation during those hours a habit, even when heat waves do not tire the supplies.
Mainzer said there is a danger that making too many calls for emergency conservation so early in the season could result in less consumer response later. California typically experiences its hottest weather in August and September, and last year’s power outages – the first to hit the state since 2001 – struck in August.
“It’s a potential for fatigue among consumers, like ‘Why are we in this situation?’,” Mainzer said Friday. “It’s a good question.”
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