CA's power grid is ready for heat wave, but be ready for Flex Alerts

Sun sets on San Onofre nuclear plant

Ed Joyce/KPCC

The agency that operates California's power grid said Friday it has ample supply to meet the needs of California as a heat wave takes hold throughout the state. It's the first major heat event since the San Onofre nuclear plant went offline in January 2012. (Photo: The sun sets behind the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County).

California’s power grid can stand the heat but needs you to be ready to get out of the kitchen. 

The California Independent System Operator, or CAL-ISO, the agency that manages most of the state’s power grid, said because the current heat wave is the first of the summer, its fleet of power plants is in really good shape. 

"We haven’t had the weather and intense heat of this nature yet this year, so we are going into the heat wave with all available supplies," said CAL-ISO spokeswoman Stephanie McCorkle.

The day that concerns CAL-ISO most is Monday, July 1.  Power demands tend to fall off during the weekend as closed businesses keep their lights and cooling systems turned off.  But on Monday, the power needs will increase quickly, McCorkle said, because many office buildings will have gotten very hot.  

"That ramp-up is coming at a time when it’s going to be the peak of the heat wave,"  McCorkle said. "If we call a Flex Alert, we’re going to call it as soon as we can, so we need people to listen up for that on Monday.”

CAL-ISO calls Flex Alerts when it needs consumers to save electricity to take stress off the power grid.  The three simplest actions to save power:

  1. Turn off all unneeded lights
  2. Postpone the use of electric appliances like ovens and stove tops until after 6 p.m.
  3. Adjust air conditioner or thermostat to 78 degrees or higher or turn it off entirely if nobody will be home.

McCorkle said consumers can also close their drapes and blinds during the day time and use ceiling fans, making sure they turn counterclockwise, to keep their homes cool.   

The shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station (SONGS) is a factor the agency has planned for all year.  The plant had provided power about 1.3 million Southern California homes before it shutdown due to equipment problems January 31, 2012. The operator of the plant, Southern California Edison, has moved to permanently close the nuclear plant. 

"San Onofre provided more than just electicity," McCorkle explained.  "It provided what we call 'voltage.'"  Voltage, she said, is like the pressure in a water system.  

"You need pressure through voltage to push the electrons through the network."  

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