Californians Need to Conserve Energy This Weekend

Set that puppy to 78 this weekend | Photo: midnightcomm/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Faced with spiking demand for electrical power as a heatwave settles in over the state, the California Independent System Operator (CaISO) has declared a Flex Alert, in which Californians are asked to step up their efforts to conserve energy until Sunday, August 12. But don't worry: they're not asking you to do anything you shouldn't already be doing.

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CaISO forecasts peak electrical demand for today (Friday, August 10) at just under 46,000 megawatts, and only slightly lower over the weekend. Even with the San Onofre nuclear power plant shut down the state has enough capacity to meet this demand if nothing else goes wrong, but the projected margin of supply over demand is less than CaISO prefers.

Demand for electrical power is especially high when the weather's hot and humid, as people tend to rely on their air conditioning. During summer, the risk of wildfires makes maintaining that supply margin even more critical: a small wildfire can take out a transmission line, leading to a cascade of failure if the system is already overtaxed. And the higher demand gets, the dirtier our air gets: peaking power plants that get fired up when demand spikes tend to put out a lot of pollution.

And so CaISO is asking Californians to take steps this weekend to cut down the state's demand. They include:

  • Setting your air conditioning to no lower than 78°
  • Refraining from using large appliances (washing machines, dishwashers, vacuum cleaners) until after 6 p.m.
  • Turning off lights you're not using, unplugging unused "energy vampire" standby appliances such as instant-on televisions, phone chargers, and microwave ovens
  • Drawing blinds in sunny rooms to lower the burden on your air conditioning
  • Ensuring workplace computer networks are configured to "sleep" units that go unused for a while

According to CaISO, these steps can lower power demand in California by a 1,000 megawatts or more, equivalent to two medium-sized power plants. Turning off your closet lights and slacking off on the AC is much better for the environment than building even the greenest power plant. Which means CaISO is asking us to take low-impact power conservation measures we should all be taking every day.

You can learn more about Flex Alerts, and sign up to be notified automatically of future alerts, at flexalert.org.

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About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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