Oh California! California’s Grid Flexes But Doesn’t Break

3 min read

If you have been crumbling under the heat dome in California, you are not alone. The electric grid is too.

The past few days have been a crescendo of Flex Alerts, Emergency Notifications, threats of rolling blackouts, actual unintended blackouts; it all points to enormous systemic stress on how we supply, balance and consume power. While this is becoming the new norm with climate change and extreme weather events across the globe, let it not be lost that the 5th largest economy in the world was on the brink of running out of energy supply on September 6th!

California ISO Energy Emergency Alert 2 Declared to Protect Grid

California ISO Energy Emergency Alert Levels

Why? Every hour of every day, system operators balance electricity demand and supply in real time. When demand peaks on high-temperature days, they have to turn on reserve power in the form of the dirtiest power plants called peakers. Peakers burn fossil fuels and significantly increase emissions. See for yourself, below, the increase in carbon dioxide emissions on the emergency hot day (September 6) as compared to a mild one (August 30).

increase in carbon dioxide emissions on the emergency hot day
Source: CAISO

When the operators run out of reserve power, the only recourse they have is to forcibly shut down demand, leading to rolling blackouts.

September 6 was heading that way but Californians came to the rescue. After a last-ditch text message for emergency demand reduction from Gov. Newsom, rolling blackouts were avoided.

CalOES Emergency Alert on Extreme heat
Emergency Alert sent at 5:45 PM PST on Sep 6, 2022

Below, you can see the impact on the September 6th system demand when Californians received the text alert and turned down their air-conditioning, and switched off non-essential power.

System demand trend in megawatts
Source: CAISO, (Note – Actual demand impact is calculated using ‘baselines’)

AutoGrid Flex Dispatches Over 100 Events

At AutoGrid, we weren’t surprised at the tremendous impact of this collective action because it’s what we do every day, all around the world. Through the smart and AI-driven orchestration of distributed energy resources including demand response, solar, storage, EVs, and industrial and commercial loads, we shape the demand curve. However, unlike Newsome’s emergency appeal to Californians on September 6, our customers get compensated very well for the action they take. While the public’s response to that plea is commendable, there are better ways to do this — that too involves using clean energy resources.

AutoGrid Virtual Power Plant Setup

Over the last few days, AutoGrid’s Virtual Power Plant (VPP) in California has dispatched over 104 events contributing to the reserves. During the emergency hours (EEA 2 and 3) AutoGrid’s VPP controlled residential thermostats, residential and commercial energy storage, microgrids, and fleets of electric vehicles/chargers. All our partners and customers, including the largest utility companies, successfully participated in the program.

California’s electricity grid is not alone in experiencing this dance of near capitulation under intense demand.  To date, we have dispatched over 1000 peak demand events, controlled over a million clean energy assets, and saved over 10 GWh of electricity in support of grid emergencies. This was across our customers in Australia, Hong Kong, India, France, Canada, and closer to home – Texas, New York, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and many other states.

AutoGrid dispatch over 1000 peak demand events

However, we are not out of the woods yet. Undoubtedly such crises will continue to deepen and plague our electric grid in the coming years. VPPs will continue to offset dirty peakers to avoid such blackouts. We are on track to deploy a 2 GW scale VPP in California alone.

But just like September 6, it needs a collective effort – from technology providers, policymakers, politicians, utilities, system operators, and the regulators. Most importantly, it needs participation from you – the prosumer. Join us in the fight against climate change – Take your power back!

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