As a scorching heatwave descends over the state and stretches power supplies to breaking point, California has asked residents to reduce electricity use, the latest hint of catastrophic weather in the US west.
In order to avoid blackouts, state officials urged people and businesses to conserve energy by turning off unnecessary lights and appliances and setting temperatures to 78F (26C) between 4 and 9pm local time, when demand is at its highest and solar power generation is at its lowest.
Wildfires and severe drought have become a major hazard in the west of the United States this summer. Scientists predict that when hot spells become more commonplace, they will put a greater burden on infrastructure like water and power plants. The federal government has mandated water reductions in numerous western states just yesterday to save the Colorado River.
During the summers and falls of the past two years, when California saw repeated bouts of record-breakingly hot weather, the state’s grid operator issued similar requests regarding power usage. While 2021’s power grid was able to withstand heat waves, two days of rolling blackouts in August 2020 left roughly 400,000 people without electricity.
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The California grid operator predicted on Wednesday that peak demand for electricity will reach 44,919 MW, the highest level since September 2020, when demand reached 47,236 MW. On a cold winter day, one megawatt may supply electricity to around 1,000 US dwellings.
This could lead to daytime electricity costs in southern California and Washington state reaching levels not seen since September 2021.
On Wednesday, the heat is increasing the potential for wildfires. There was a 35% containment rate for the Wishon fire, which burned 350 acres in the Sequoia National Forest.
On Tuesday, the US government issued a warning that further reductions in water use were necessary to conserve the depleting supplies kept in reservoirs that are critical to the wellbeing of seven western states.
The water levels in Lake Mead and Lake Powell, two reservoirs, are at roughly 25% of their respective average summertime lows. Authorities warn that if lake levels drop any further, westerners will be without their reliable source of hydroelectric electricity.
The National Weather Service predicts that on Wednesday, temperatures will hit 110 degrees Fahrenheit (43 degrees Celsius) in Big Bar, an unincorporated area of northern California, and 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41 degrees Celsius) in Electric City, Washington.