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Sunday, December 10, 2023

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Flex Alerts ask Californians to conserve energy during hot summer days. (Adobe Stock) Flex Alerts ask Californians to conserve energy during hot summer days. (Adobe Stock)

Understanding Flex Alerts: Q&A with Joaquin Camacho

Hot summer weather triggers a call for energy conservation in California.
By Susanne Clara Bard

In addition to extreme drought, California is experiencing another scorching summer. This has led to calls for energy conservation by consumers on especially hot days.

San Diego State University assistant professor of mechanical engineering Joaquin Camacho researches sustainable energy technologies. NewsCenter’s Susanne Clara Bard asked Camacho to explain the nuts and bolts of the state’s Flex Alert program.

What is a Flex Alert?
Flex Alerts are a California-wide effort to increase active public participation in reducing energy usage and strain on the electrical grid on hot weather days. A Flex Alert is a public advisory for people to find ways to save electrical power in homes and businesses in a given day during the peak demand time (4-9 p.m.).

Why does hot summer weather put a strain on the power grid?
The most direct connection between hot summer weather and the power grid is the increased demand for air conditioning. More homes and businesses turn on their AC system and the larger difference between inside and outside temperatures results in larger electrical power demand. Wide-scale implementation of solar energy in California has made a huge impact in meeting electrical needs, but it is still a challenge to maintain reliable power in the evening when the sun sets and Californians continue using the grid.
The energy grid in California is now designed to minimize the use of traditional fossil fuels, but emerging renewable energy technologies are not able to provide the base load to the level of natural gas power plants. During this transition towards renewable energy, Flex Alerts and other measures will reduce power grid failures. The electrical grid could come under strain for a variety of reasons and a Flex Alert could also be used to alleviate these other situations. It is important to remember that excessive heat can be harmful to human health, so elderly people and other at-risk communities should prioritize maintaining a safe living environment.

What are the consequences if California energy customers don’t conserve?
Flex Alerts are an early intervention offered to the public to prevent more severe losses in electrical power delivery to homes, businesses and infrastructure. The goal is to gain public participation to reduce electricity demands before electrical utility providers have to make more severe actions such as unplanned service interruptions (blackouts), rotating service interruptions (rolling blackouts), and reduced voltage delivery (brownouts).

What else can Californians do to conserve energy?
There are many activities that can be carried out at the home and office to reduce electricity use, such as minimizing air conditioner use and increasing the air conditioning thermostat setting to above 78? when used. Other tips could be found on the state’s Flex Alert website.