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California energy customers bailed the state out of another rolling blackout scenario during the recent heatwave.

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Christopher Neely's picture
Independent Local News Organization

Journalist for nearly a decade with keen interest in local energy policies for cities and national efforts to facilitate a renewable revolution. 

  • Member since 2017
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  • Sep 28, 2022

When the head of the state's independent system operator has to make daily update videos on the health of the grid, it's clear the grid is in bad shape. This was the case for California earlier this month, during a prolonged extreme heatwave that forced California Independent System Operator CEO and President Elliot Manzer to host a daily fireside chat to keep energy customers across the state updated. 

The most startling news on a Sept. 7, in which Manzier informed Californians that a day earlier, the state set a record for energy demand on the grid, peaking at 52,061 megawatts. This first triggered an energy emergency alert 2, which allowed the state to rev up all of its available capacity, however the measure fell short. By 5:17pm, CAISO elevated it to a level three emergency, in which the state grid operators warned utilities across the state to prepare for rolling blackouts—a last resort to save the grid from total blackout. 

Then, something interesting happened. Gov. Gavin Newsom's office sent out a text alert to Californians asking them to conserve energy where possible to help save the state from a damaging blackout. According to Manzier, the effort bought about 2,000MW of load capacity, relieving the grid of overload and saving the state from catastrophe. Customers to the rescue. 

That day was not the end of California's problem for the week however. Flex alerts were issued for the state again on Sept. 7 between 4pm and 9pm, and then again on Sept. 8, this time from 3pm to 10pm, elongated due to a double whammy of a tropical storm in the south and wildfire smoke creating sky cover and limiting the state's solar systems. By Sept. 9, the state survived the worst of it. Manzier even said that the state didn't have to fire up all of its peaker plants on Sept. 8, as initially expected, because, among other things, the state's battery storage fleet performed solidly—probably some of the best news for battery storage in recent memory. 

The important takeaway here is that, while this was an unusually hot and extended heatwave, weather events like these are going to become more common. This time, the residents of California came through and voluntarily curbed energy consumption to save the day. Rocky energy supply seems as if it is going to be a part of California, and much of the west's, immediate future. As smart meters and microgrids become more common, the need for voluntary cooperation will become less necessary, for opposite reasons. With smart meters, control over household energy consumption will be more centralized. With microgrids, household energy consumption will become more dispersed and diverse, relying less on a single overloaded grid. 

However, a bumpy energy supply during extreme weather will come again, sooner rather than later is my bet. The west needs to continue to lead on smart meters, battery supply, and microgrid proliferation, while residents need to continue to play a vigilant role in saving the state from an energy crisis. 


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