Statewide Flex Alert highlights impacts of cleaner energy on electric grid

Zach Fuentes Image
Thursday, August 18, 2022
Flex Alert highlights impacts of cleaner energy on electric grid
California's statewide Flex Alert highlights the impact on clean energy users and the power grid amid a strain on resources.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- California ISO issued a statewide Flex Alert Wednesday from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m. due to excessive heat.

The state's electric grid operator asked Californians to avoid using major appliances, turn off all unnecessary lights, and set thermostats to 78 degrees or higher if possible.

VIDEO: What is a Flex Alert?

So a Flex Alert has been issued in California amid a heat wave, but what exactly does that mean?

The Flex Alerts seen over the last couple of years come at a time when more people are turning to cleaner energy options like electric vehicles and appliances, but those things also create more stress on the electric grid.

The call to voluntarily conserve energy has come a little later this year compared to 2021.

At that time, the state issued a Flex Alert as early as June.

"We haven't had one yet this year, because we've had pretty good weather that's been very cooperative," said Severin Borenstein, a professor at UC Berkeley's Energy Institute at Haas and a Cal-ISO board member.

He says the later call this year for a Flex Alert is also in part because the grid operator is more prepared.

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"We've brought on a lot more battery capacity," he said. "That helps us get through that critical end-of-the-day period."

Borenstein says California leads the country in integrating solar and wind power instead of having to fire up gas-powered generator plants.

But those cleaner energy sources come with some drawbacks.

"They only produce when they produce, when the sun goes down solar power doesn't produce, when the wind isn't blowing the wind turbines don't produce," Borenstein said. "So that means we need to make some other adjustments as well."

There are also more challenges coming from other directions.

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As governments and energy experts encourage people to move away from greenhouse emissions alternatives like electric cars and appliances require more electricity.

"We're trying to get people to use less gasoline for vehicles, less natural gas for heating their house and heating hot water," Borenstein said. "So that's actually increasing the demands on the system. We're trying to keep up."

For now, the push is getting people to adhere to Flex Alerts during the hours they're issued, turning the thermostat up a few degrees, pausing the use of major appliances and properly timing when to charge electric vehicles.

"Charge it in the middle of the day when the system is awash in solar power, and you're charging with clean electricity," Borenstein said. "You'll have a fully charged car, just avoid that end of the day period 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

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