Several years ago there were some serious problems with the electrical grid. Voluntary closures and rolling blackouts provided a scare. We’re all used to flipping a switch and getting instant light. That happened well before the present drought started. Will we find ourselves there again?
What is a drought? When there is less water supply to an area than is required, it’s called a drought. The interesting thing about droughts is that one area can be in a terrible drought while another, nearby location isn’t. Unfortunately, that’s not the case for much of the Southwest.
How could a drought affect electricity? About a third of California’s water is supplied via hydroelectric dams. When the water level in the lakes behind the dams is too low, the water can’t reach the turbines. This is a serious problem in Las Vegas, because Lake Mead is shrinking. That affects water supply, power and tourist dollars.
Will there be enough power? One regional power supplier, Pacific Gas and Electric, believes that we will have enough power to see us through the summer. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we may experience rate increases if a significant part of the grid is threatened. We may also experience power emergencies.
What is a power emergency? California Independent System Operators have contingency plans set up as power demand starts getting close to the amount available. There are several layers of this, starting with Flex Alerts. This tells customers to conserve as much as possible. Next, they restrict maintenance, ask for voluntary programs to kick in and then stages one, two and three emergencies.
What are voluntary programs? Some businesses and home owners have agreed to shut down when energy levels are tight. For this, they receive a reduction in electricity prices. If enough shut down, we might not have to declare power emergencies or the emergency won’t be as severe.
What can I do? Some of us can’t do a lot but most of us can. Turn off lights if you aren’t using them. Use fans instead of air conditioning where possible. If you need air conditioning and can leave the house, there are often cooling centers open when the heat is high. Those of us who work from home can, if possible, go to an air conditioned building with wi fi. Starbucks and McDonald’s both offer the service for free.
We also need to conserve water. As mentioned, a third of the water supply is from hydroelectric dams. The more we conserve, the more likely we are to avoid power problems.