California Got 'Lucky' Avoiding Blackouts Amid Energy Crisis: Expert

As temperatures climbed over the last week, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) stressed that the grid would be too strained to provide energy, leading to blackouts for millions with temps in the mid-110 degrees Fahrenheit. However, a mix of solutions came together to avoid the looming problem.

The heat wave began on August 30. An excessive heat warning was issued by the National Weather Service (NWS) and remained in place through September 7. The state avoided blackouts during that time as multiple solutions came together—Californians listened to text alerts requesting they avoid energy usage between 4 and 9 p.m., the state took advantage of its relatively new, ramped up fleet of batteries, and the weather, despite being hot, wasn't equipped with high winds that could have further strained the system.

Dan Kammen, an energy expert at the University of California, Berkeley told Wired in an article published on Friday that California got "lucky" for most of the heat wave. According to the article, high winds increase the risk of power line problems, which then spark fires. That leads to a negative feedback loop, because if fires spark, they may force parts of the power system to shut down. If fires get big enough, they obscure the sun and reduce solar output.

Since heat was the grid's main problem, grid operator CAISO could use a collection of tools to keep the lights on. Approximately 20 percent of California is powered by solar energy, further reducing strain on the grid. According to Wired, solar energy on rooftops provided 8,000 megawatts during Tuesday's peak temperatures.

Solar Panels Power 20 Percent of California
Above, angled solar panels are visible atop a residential home in a secluded area of Danville, California. Solar panels helped ease the strain on the power grid during high temperatures this week. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

The heat wave, although stressful for millions, proved to California that its new fleet of grid-scale batteries are working.

The batteries can keep their power for four hours, which is the same amount of time the grid was stressed in the evenings as people came home from work. Wired reported that at their peak output, 6 percent of the state's energy supply comes from the batteries, a massive increase from 0.1 percent in 2017. The batteries even surpassed the state's sole nuclear plant output, and peaked at just under 3,000 megawatts.

A Bloomberg report from July showed that batteries contribute to 60 times the energy produced now than in 2017. The report shared a graph that shows the state's batteries have tripled in energy contributions over last year.

The success of the batteries paired with the solar energy and the effort by Californians to reduce their energy, helped the state avoid blackouts.

Kammen said there are ways the state can continue to fortify the grid, and suggested batteries inside homes or inside electric cars to lessen the strain. He also said that the state could conserve energy earlier in the year by pumping water into reservoirs to be tapped later or using renewable energy to produce hydrogen fuel.

"Surviving this is going to send a clear message to regulators that we need to invest more in renewables plus storage," Kammen told Wired.

Newsweek reached out to CAISO for comment.