The scorching 10-day heat wave that Southern California endured had one unexpected benefit — it proved that the state can successfully manage the transition to clean energy.
Despite record demand for electricity, rolling blackouts were avoided thanks to careful management of supplies by the California Independent System Operator and sophisticated participation by residents.
Typical of this management was the first use of four emergency generators installed by the Department of Water Resources in Roseville and Yuba City. They were turned on Monday to add 120 megawatts — enough for 120,000 homes — to the grid.
The fact is, the days of brute-force power generation with giant coal-burning plants are numbered. There’s still a role for nuclear, which is carbon free, but widespread solar and wind farms, growing battery backup installations, and efficient generators using relatively clean natural gas are leading the transition.
Throughout the heat wave, the Cal-ISO’s web dashboard showed renewable energy supplying 25% or more of the state’s power needs.
There are also new efficiencies on the demand side. Newer homes use less electricity, and smart thermostats — some controlled by utilities — can carefully manage air-conditioning use.
And Californians increasingly understand and appreciate their role. Residents complied with the Flex Alerts, especially after a statewide cellphone alert on Tuesday, and in many cases didn’t have to do anything because of smart thermostats.
Fox News and other conservative media outlets seized upon the heat wave with glee, especially after the Cal-ISO reminder not to charge electric vehicles during Flex Alerts. Fox saw this as proof that America should continue burning gasoline and belching carbon.
But for Californians, who drive more electric cars than any state, this was a major “duh” moment. Everybody who drives an EV knows you charge overnight, when rates are lowest. You only charge during the day if you have a very long drive or forgot to charge overnight.
In many ways the criticism of clean energy today is reminiscent of a popular conservative rejoinder at the beginning of the 20th century — “Get a horse!” We all know now how much faster, more convenient and cleaner the automobile was, even if there were a few problems in the early days.
California demonstrated just how few problems there are now with clean energy during the great heat wave of 2022. The heat was worse than in 2020, but the outcome was better.
Once again, the Golden State is leading the way in America, this time toward a clean energy and climate friendly future.
Chris Jennewein is editor and publisher of Times of San Diego.