Power blackouts hit California during record-breaking heatwave

A broken streetlight standing in Aliso Viejo. Chris Ramirez/Lariat

Thousands of people were left without power during the massive heatwave that hit California this past weekend. Edison was forced to schedule blackouts throughout the state due to the excessive strain on the power grid.

 A new graph estimated 70,000 people were left without power, however, that number has been decreasing every day since. By Monday, the amount of people without power had dropped to nearly half of that. Residents were left questioning why the outages were occurring when they needed their electricity the most.

“More than one thing went on that affected the blackouts,” said Robert Villegas on the phone, a Southern California Edison employee. “First an independence operator looks at the supply and demand. Demand was too high and therefore had to turn off a certain amount. It is a way we [Edison] prevent from too much wattage from being used.”

Not only were a large number of people using their air conditioners to beat the heat, but quarantine also puts a hit on the electricity since so many residents are working from home. In addition to that extra stress on the power grid, a large amount of wattage was already being used due to the last heatwave at the end of August. The energy system has been unable to recover from the constant excess of use.

“Because of the heat, it put a lot of strain on the actual equipment that feeds the neighborhoods, your home and business,” Villegas said. “We saw three straight days of very high daytime temperatures, very high conditioning use and high overnight temperatures which means the system does not have an opportunity to cool down overnight, and components can begin to fail. We ended up seeing significant stress on the system over the weekend.”

The high temperatures do seem to be going down, which will help the strain on the power grid. With the high-temperature average decreasing, there should be a lower use of air conditioning, which will lessen the use of electricity throughout the state of California. 

As of early Sept., only five to six thousand customers are experiencing loss of power. This also includes reasons such as car accidents or any other inconveniences not related to the heat and supply/demand. Residents helped to make significant reductions in energy consumption by cutting down use.

“I want to throw a big shout out to our customers who really listened when California called the flex alerts and really conserved,” Villegas said. “There’s a difference when people turn their thermostat from 78 degrees to 74 degrees. Those few degrees, that little bit of less energy that home consumes when added together totally makes a difference.”

The county of Humboldt was strongly affected by these power outages this last weekend, the heat was even more significant due to the fires blazing nearby. As fires raged on, cities like Eureka had to manage their energy use. The combination of the weather and fires made it too difficult to bear being inside, according to Melissa Miranda, a resident of Humboldt affected by the power outages. 

“Already being stuck at home is bad, but being all hot with nothing to do made it even worse,” Miranda said. “It wasn’t as hot as Southern California I think. Though, because of the fires it made everything feel pretty bad. Especially because we’re pretty close to Oregon and they have it worse I think, all the ash and hot air made it difficult to go outside. Honestly, though, we were all much more bored than anything else.”

The productivity of some residents, especially students and workers, were also affected. Most people are forced to use Zoom in order to communicate with classmates and coworkers. Lacking the internet to do these tasks, many felt the negative effects.

“One of our roommates had to drive down to their parents house because I think they still had school,” said Alexandria Ashton, who was affected by the power outages near Arcata. “I graduated about a year ago so luckily I didn’t have to worry about anything regarding school. Another roommate of mine just ended up getting a day off work so we kinda made the most of it. It could have been worse for us honestly but I think we managed pretty well.”

Although the fires are still raging on, the weather has begun to cool down and with it, electricity use. As of publication, no other power outages are scheduled to happen.