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Why a text alert may have helped keep California’s lights on

Officials say an emergency cell phone alert yesterday played a key role in helping prevent blackouts in California during a severe heatwave. Residents jumped into action within minutes of receiving a text asking them to conserve energy.

An unusually severe and prolonged heat wave has increased pressure on the state’s power grid since last week. Record-smashing temperatures in the triple digits have increased electricity demand for air conditioning.

By Tuesday, demand had eased All time high 52,061 megawatts for the Golden State, according to grid manager California Independent System Operator (CAISO). CAISO issued a Level 3 Energy Emergency Alert, its highest alert, at 5:17PMET that night. This suggests that rotating power outages are imminent as power supplies are stretched too thin.

Soon after, at 5:45PM, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES) said it issued a cell phone alert. “Conserve energy now to protect public health and safety. Extreme heat is straining the state’s energy grid. Power outages may occur if you don’t take action. If health permits, turn off now until 9 p.m. or reduce unnecessary power,” the text read. The message was also sent in Spanish.

Within minutes of the alert, the demand for electricity dropped drastically. Between 5:50 and 5:55, it drops to about 1,200 MW.

To be sure, CAISO data shows that demand started to fall overnight – around the time that Level 3 alert was announced. But it dropped even more dramatically after the cellphone alert reached the public.

As of 8PM, CAISO declared a severe level 3 energy emergency alert. “Consumer protection has played a big role in protecting the reliability of the electric grid. Thanks, California!” That’s it He tweeted.

The governor’s office has successfully promoted text messages. “As a result of this action, California Independent System Operation (CaISO) saw an immediate and significant decrease in energy consumption, which brought some relief to the state grid,” Cal OES said in a press release yesterday.

The state narrowly avoided widespread rolling blackouts. But tens of thousands of customers, mostly in Northern California, lost power at some point yesterday. Today, Californians are on the eighth straight day Flex alert It asks them to voluntarily curb their energy consumption from 4-9PM when electricity demand is usually at its peak.

This isn’t the first time that emergency text alerts have helped authorities ease the strain on its power grid. New York City saw something similar in June 2021. Local authorities there sent a similar message to residents urging them to conserve energy during the brutal heat wave, and power demand soon dropped.

California’s text messages are part of a nationwide system of “wireless emergency alerts.” Amber Alerts can be sent by federal, state, or local authorities to warn of national emergencies, natural disasters, or missing children.

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