Why is California Having Rolling Blackouts?

A record-breaking heat wave in California has seen rolling blackouts issued across the state in the past few days. The planned power outages were implemented to conserve electricity following power shortages with increased usage of air conditioning units across California due to the heat wave.

The California Independent System Operator (ISO), which manages the operation of the state's power grid, noted: "California's record-breaking heat wave has put strain on the ISO electric system since Friday, Aug. 14, as air conditioners pushed up electricity demand.

"In an effort to prevent or limit power outages during this heat wave, the ISO issued a statewide Flex Alert, a call for voluntary electricity conservation, through Wednesday. The Flex Alerts are in effect from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. each day. Because of high heat, the grid still needs conservation through at least tomorrow [Wednesday]," the California ISO confirmed in a statement.=

On Tuesday the expected rolling blackouts were called off for the second day in a row since Friday, when the first planned power outage took place. The operator cancelled a Stage 2 power emergency declared earlier, "as consumers again answered the call to conserve," it noted in the statement.

"Californians made tonight [Tuesday] a success," Steve Berberich, the president and chief executive officer of the California ISO, said in the statement. "Everyone pulled together and responded to our warning with action to avoid any interruption in electricity supplies."

The operator also confirmed it was supported by imported energy, while wind plants also pumped some resources into the system late in the day.

The planned power outages were expected to affect nearly 3.3 million homes and businesses, local authorities noted Monday.

Friday's power outage was the state's first rolling blackout in nearly 20 years, the Associated Press reported.

It saw the state's three biggest utility companies—Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric—cut power to more than 410,000 homes and businesses for about an hour at a time until the emergency declaration ended 3.5 hours later.

Saturday evening's planned outage impacted over 200,000 customers across the state, as residents headed to beaches and river banks over to cool off.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom noted at a press briefing Monday: "I am not pleased with what's happened. You shouldn't be pleased with the moment that we're in here in the state of California," noting the state failed to predict and plan for the recent energy shortages.

In an effort to prevent or limit power outages during this heat wave, the California #ISO issued a statewide #FlexAlert for today - Wednesday, Aug. 19, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. Learn more: https://t.co/U5yYGRfQjT pic.twitter.com/mJCmqLPHnq

— California ISO (@California_ISO) August 17, 2020

In a letter demanding that the state's Energy Commission, Public Utilities Commission as well as the California ISO investigate the latest power shortages, he wrote: "These blackouts, which occurred without prior warning or enough time for preparation, are unacceptable and unbefitting of the nation's largest and most innovative state. This cannot stand. California residents and businesses deserve better from their government."

On Tuesday, Newsom declared "a statewide emergency to help ensure the availability of vital resources to combat fires burning across the state, which have been exacerbated by the effects of the historic West Coast heat wave and sustained high winds," the governor's office confirmed in a statement.

Soaring temperatures were recorded in California over the past few days, with "widespread temps [tempartures] in the 100s [Fahrenheit], with 110s and 120s in the Desert Southwest," the National Weather Service (NWS) noted in a posted Monday on its official Twitter account.

"Yeah, it's summer, and summer is hot, but this is different. These are record high temperatures in what is typically one the hottest times of the year anyways. These are dangerous conditions that should be taken seriously to avoid heat-related illness," the NWS said in a Tuesday post on Twitter.

An Excessive Heat Warning remains in effect across most of central and southern California until 9 p.m. local time Wednesday.

Kinda sounding like a broken record with the ongoing intense heat and fire weather threats due to dry lightning in the Western states. However, today, there is an additional feature. Heavy rain in the Southern Sierra Mountains may produce localized flash flooding. pic.twitter.com/HBlikA5LS3

— National Weather Service (@NWS) August 18, 2020

"Excessive Heat Warnings are issued by a county when any location within that county is expected to reach criteria," the NWS explains.

"Criteria for an Excessive Heat Warning is a heat index of 105 [degrees] Fahrenheit or greater that will last for two hours or more," the NWS notes.

On Sunday, a weather station in California's Death Valley recorded a temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit, which could possibly be the highest temperature ever recorded on Earth.

The heat wave and power shortages come amid the ongoing California wildfire season and COVID-19 pandemic.

Both events continue across California, which now has the highest number of confirmed cases of the virus, approaching nearly 638,200, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Los Angeles, California, August 2020
The downtown skyline seen behind high tension towers in Los Angeles, California on August 16, 2020. Apu Gomes/AFP via Getty Images