The Text Message that Kept California’s Lights On

The Text Message that Kept California’s Lights On

Over Memorial Day weekend and the week before, a giant heatwave hit California. San Jose and Redwood City recorded their highest-ever temperatures, as did the state’s capital, Sacramento, at 116 degrees Fahrenheit. As demand for air conditioning skyrocketed, the heatwave pushed California’s grid to the brink, surpassing all previous records for demand by more than 3%. Though the state was on the verge of mandating rolling blackouts to save power, it managed to avoid cutting power by sending a text message to California residents.

On September 7, an emergency SMS alert went out, encouraging Californias to save energy, warning that "power interruptions may occur unless you take action.” Within 45 minutes, electricity use was reduced by more than 2,000 megawatts, enough power for more than 1.5 million homes. That text message made all the difference.

“As a result of this action, the California Independent System Operation (CaISO) saw an immediate and significant drop in energy use, providing some relief to the state’s grid,” the California Governor’s Office stated in a press release.

FOX 11 LA: California avoids rolling blackouts thanks to phone alert, September 7, 2022.

NBC: Extreme Heat Raises Concerns About US Power Grids, June 17, 2022.

CNBC: How the US Can Build a 100% Clean Grid, January 27, 2021.

Why This Matters

The recent heat event in California illustrates how climate change is stressing electrical grids worldwide and how to prevent these electrical systems from failing. The repeated failures during climate change-fueled extreme weather, like heatwaves and hurricanes, makes clear that the US electric grid needs updating, including the transition to renewable energy sources.

In fact, renewables were crucial in allowing California’s grid to push through the heatwave. Last Tuesday, solar power buoyed demand through the afternoon, proving clean energy options are making the state’s grid more resilient, even during extreme weather. California’s use of renewables exemplifies the benefits of a clean energy transition. In May, the state’s main electricity grid, for the first time, ran on over 99.87% renewable energy.

60 Minutes: How secure is America’s electric grid?, February 27, 2022.

CBS: California ahead of clean energy goals, March 11, 2022.

Lessons For Texas?

California’s success has experts thinking about how to apply these lessons in Texas, a state that has also suffered blackouts due to extreme heat and cold. Though several Texan cities have established climate adaptation and resilience plans, and previous severe weather events have demonstrated the dire need for planning, none exist at the state level.

Newscaster and native Texan Dan Rather tweeted: “There was an unusual weather event in California and Governor Newsom asked residents to pitch in during a moment of crisis. People responded for the good of the community. The crisis passed with the electricity still on. Is a better model what we experienced in Texas?”

CNBC: How Texas’ Tough Winter Exposed US Power Grid Problems, March 26, 2021.

All said, during a devastating heatwave earlier this summer, the Lone Star State’s solar and wind power kept the Texas grid running. Wind and solar power met nearly 40% of demand during peaks and lowered electricity prices. Like in California, the answer may just be in renewables.

ABC 13: Record Texas heat could push power grid demand to brink, ERCOT warns, May 3, 2022.

KVUE ABC: ERCOT | Texas is not ready for extreme weather, November 22, 2021.

WW0: Heather Zichal and Amanda Little WW0 Facebook Live conversation, February 2, 2021.