After a brief respite this week, during which some Californians saw rain for the first time in months, the state’s energy grid operators are again urging residents to conserve power as temperatures climb.
The California Independent System Operator issued what is known as a “flex alert” for the entire state for 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. local time on Wednesday. That means that demand for electricity is expected to surge during those hours as residents crank up air-conditioners and turn on fans in an effort to stay cool amid dangerously hot and dry conditions.
So officials are effectively begging Californians to delay using their washing machines, turn off unnecessary lights and set their thermostats to 78 degrees or higher, in order to avoid triggering blackouts.
Experts say that a confluence of factors are likely to make such calls for conservation more frequent and more urgent.
Ed Hirs, an energy fellow at the University of Houston, said late last month that California imports more than a third of its electricity from other states. As heat waves bake huge swaths of the United States — not just California — energy supplies have been strained, leaving grid operators and state officials with few options.
“Now it’s not just California’s grid reliability you have to worry about,” Mr. Hirs said. “It’s your neighbors’.”
That’s what happened last year: When a heat wave walloped California, power was cut to millions of people, in a debacle reminiscent of the energy crisis that pummeled the state 20 years ago.
Gov. Gavin Newsom demanded an investigation and sharply criticized grid operators for failing to properly plan for a heat wave they knew for days was coming. “Grid operators were caught flat footed, unable to avert disruptive blackouts and to adequately warn the public,” he wrote in a terse letter to energy officials at the time.