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A heat wave in the West is putting stress on power grids

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The sun sets behind power lines in Los Angeles, California, on September 3, 2020.

In Texas and California, people are being asked to lower their power use. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

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There is a major heat wave across much of the West and Southwest right now, with tens of millions of people facing temperatures in the 90s and 100s. With all that air conditioning running, there’s stress on power grids, and in Texas and California, people are being asked to lower their power use.

With climate change making this kind of extreme heat more common, strengthening the grid is a priority. A lot of the grid is old and in need of repair.

“We have these new technologies that can be a lot more resilient to temperature changes, and help us with more backup power. We have to install all of that,” said Amy Myers Jaffe at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.

That includes more renewable energy and batteries that can store power for longer. There are also new software systems “that, if you’re not home, your utility could turn off your air conditioning or other appliances in your home because you’re not there,” Myers Jaffe said, and then turn it on again before you get home.

In addition to building capacity to generate and store electricity, consumer behavior also makes a difference, said Jesse Jenkins at Princeton University.

“And if we can reduce electricity consumption by just 1%, that could be the difference between rolling blackouts and just another hot day,” Jenkins said, especially in the short term. That’s because new power plants and infrastructure take time to build.

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