California is facing its highest chance of blackouts this year as a brutal heatwave continues to blanket the state with triple-digit temperatures.
State energy officials said the electrical load on Tuesday could top 51,000 megawatts, the highest demand the state has ever seen.
As people crank up their air conditioners, the state forecast record levels of energy use, said Elliot Mainzer, president of California Independent System Operators, which runs the state’s electrical grid.
The state has additional energy capacity at the moment “but blackouts, rolling, rotating outages are a possibility”, Mr Mainzer said, calling additional conservation “absolutely essential”.
Four deaths were reported over the weekend as some 4,400 firefighters battled 14 large fires around the state, with 45 new blazes on Sunday alone, said Anale Burlew, a deputy chief with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.
California’s energy grid runs on a mix of mostly solar and natural gas during the day, along with some imports of power from other states.
But solar power begins to fall off during the late afternoon and into the evening, which is the hottest time of day in some parts of the state.
At CAISO’s request on Monday, four temporary emergency power generators deployed by the Department of Water Resources were activated for the first time since they were installed last year, providing up to 120 megawatts, enough electricity for 120,000 homes.
Consumers were urged to keep air conditioners at 25.5C or higher during the period and avoiding using major appliances such as ovens and dishwashers.
The efforts have worked to keep the lights on “but we have now entered the most intense phase of this heatwave” that could last into the week, and two to three times the level of conservation will be needed from people and businesses, Mr Mainzer said.
The National Weather Service predicted highs between 37.7C and 46.1C across inland California, with above 26.6C and below 37.2C closer to the coast.
Scientists say climate change has made the West warmer and drier over the last three decades and will continue to make weather more extreme and wildfires more frequent and destructive.