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Environment & Science

What's a FlexAlert? How grid managers want California to beat the heat

Investor owned utilities kick in for the Flex Alert program, sanctioned by the Public Utilities Commission.
Investor owned utilities kick in for the Flex Alert program, sanctioned by the Public Utilities Commission.

California's Independent System Operator has declared a FlexAlert for the weekend. Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, the state's grid managers want people to flip their switches to off.  

Investor-owned utilities, including Southern California Edison, have paid for a system by which the public gets alerted to shut down its electricity use in certain circumstances. That's FlexAlert. High temperatures around the state prompted the call this time around. It's not just hot in southern California, or in the inland empire; electricity system operators have looked at the whole system, and how transmission lines will carry power around it, and are predicting demand will peak

The peak demand times for power are usually between 11 AM and 6 PM. So, the FlexAlert campaign asks people to turn off unnecessary lights, to turn thermostats up to 78 degrees or higher in their houses, and to delay dish or clothes washing machines until after 6 o'clock at night. 

Southern California Edison has its own separate programs that aim to encourage energy efficiency. Some environmental groups have critiqued utilities' incentives and credits for failing to do as much as they could, and for being confusing. 

In Edison territory, the programs are targeted, sometimes regionally. "10 for 10" is an Orange County incentive in which consumers can earn a 10% bill credit if they beat their 2011 consumption by 10%.

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power encourages conservation in hot weather, too; keep in mind that it's a municipal utility, and so it's regulated differently from Edison and the rest of the investor-owned utilities. It's not part of FlexAlert, technically, but its guidelines are strikingly similar. 

The FlexAlert program offers its own tips for saving energy. You can find a pretty good explanation of the state's energy grid there, too

During a brownout, my mom used to love to drive over to the grocery store where the power was still on, and walk her rambunctious and cranky kids down the freezer section aisles, which were still covered by those plastic shower-curtain materials rather than cases. I like to get under a tree, preferably near some cool water.

Got any personal favorite ways to beat the heat?