The big California Heatwave of 2022 will slowly start to dissipate this weekend, and in San Francisco this weekend you can expect a cloudy reprieve — though it still may feel a bit warm.
The state again avoided any big blackouts on Wednesday, despite ongoing strain on the electrical grid. And officials believe that the emergency alert that went out, Amber Alert style, to millions of cellphones on Tuesday night helped get the public's attention and likely contributed to a swift dropoff in energy demand after it went out. It was only the third time in 10 years that the state had employed the alert system, the last being during the COVID emergency in December 2020.
Another Flex Alert is in effect for Thursday, the ninth consecutive Flex Alert that's been issued in this heatwave. This one last seven hours, from 3 p.m. to 10 p.m. — as officials forecast the energy load to once again cross the 50,000 megawatt mark as everyone keeps their air conditioners on. As we learned yesterday, you can get a few bucks taken off your PG&E bill during these Flex Alerts by significantly limiting your electricity use during those hours.
A final Flex Alert is likely to be issued for Friday.
As ABC 7 meteorologist Mike Nicco explains, two different weather systems coming from two directions are going to significantly change our weather around the Bay this weekend. First we have the remnants of Hurricane Kay, which a few experts have said could bring highly dangerous dry lightning to NorCal. On the plus side, it should bring us some cloud cover and lower temperatures — though it's still looking to be in the mid-70s Saturday and Sunday.
The second system is a cold front coming from the Gulf of Alaska, and it's not clear when and how that may bring our temperatures down further.
Most of the Bay Area, save for a ring around the Bay and San Francisco, are under an Excessive Heat Warning today through 8 p.m.
Southern California is expected to see rain from Hurricane Kay by Friday or Saturday. But the National Weather Service has pointed out that hurricanes need warm ocean temperatures to thrive, and the cold Pacific water up most of the California coast should effectively shut it down. NOAA's latest prediction shows the hurricane taking a sharp turn west and south by Monday.
As in previous energy-overload crises, there is inevitable grumbling going on on social media and elsewhere about how this is all the fault of solar energy dependence, but that isn't entirely the case. California does rely a lot on solar, and on normal days, in combination with natural gas-powered plants, the state is able to meet its energy needs. But during an extended, statewide heatwave, the extraordinary demand for energy from air conditioners up and down this huge state simply means that we break records and strain the system — the load demand on Tuesday broke a record last set in 2006.
Bernadette Del Chiaro, the executive director of the California Solar and Storage Association, tells the New York Times that it isn't solar, per se, that is the downfall in these scenarios. It's the lack of adequate battery infrastructure to store excess solar energy during peak daylight hours to use as the sun goes down and energy use goes up.
Batteries that are already in the system are doing their part, but we need more. As energy consultant Ben Paulos tweeted this week, solar-charged batteries that are connected to the state grid contributed between 2 and 3 gigawatts of power each day — as much or more than gets generated by the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
These moments of tension and strain are part of the awkward "energy transition" we're in right now, as President Biden refers to it, as our state and the nation tries to rely more on renewable sources. "And like with any transition," NYT energy correspondent Ivan Penn says in a Q&A, "this one comes with some uncomfortable challenges."