California power use soars to highest in years during record heat wave

By Brian K. Sullivan and Joe Ryan | Bloomberg

California’s power grid will be pushed to near its limit Monday as the state wilts under a blistering and sustained heat wave.

With millions of homes and businesses cranking air conditioners to cope with temperatures above 110 degrees Fahrenheit, electricity use in the largest US state is forecast to hit 48.9 gigawatts Monday, the most since 2017. The state’s grid operator has asked residents to conserve as much as possible, warning the system could be short up to 4 gigawatts.

“California has been ridiculously hot and will be hot for a good part of the week,” Bob Oravec, a senior branch forecaster with the US Weather Prediction Center, said in an interview.

The prospect of blackouts underscores how grids have become vulnerable in the face of extreme weather as they transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. California has aggressively closed natural-gas power plants in recent years, leaving the state increasingly dependent on solar farms that go dark late in the day as demand for electricity peaks. At the same time, the state is enduring its worst drought in 1,200 years, sapping hydropower 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 shattering records for those days, Oravec said. Downtown Los Angeles reached 103 on Sunday, which was the first time the temperature broke 100 this year.

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

Each day the heat drags on, the risk of power failures rise. Searing temperatures seep into concrete over time, making it increasingly difficult to cool buildings. And the longer power plants run full tilt, the more likely they are to break down.

A grid emergency watch is in effect for Monday night. Gov. Gavin Newsom has issued an emergency proclamation to free up extra power supplies.

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