Blackout Averted

Imagine! People act in service of one another to avert a disastrous problem. Californians did just that.


California deftly avoided rolling blackouts this week amid an energy surge through a novel innovation in the green energy space that researchers are calling “text everyone in the state and ask them to cool it.” It worked phenomenally well. At 3:20 p.m. on Tuesday, power demand hit a new record of 50.6K megawatts, and at 5:50 p.m. the state sent a text message alert mentioning that heat is straining the energy grid, and that there might be outages unless people turn off nonessential power until 9 p.m., please. It worked pretty much instantly. Power demand dropped 1.2 gigawatts within five minutes, immediately mitigating the issues, and by around 8 p.m. the emergency level was cancelled without a blackout. Wow, it’s almost as if slight collective action can have a meaningful impact addressing the ramifications of climate change if a state is willing to intervene; who could have possibly seen this coming.

Dan Murtaugh and Brian Eckhouse, Bloomberg

One of the advantages of digital networking is the possibility of instant notification. Since the 1950s, the US has had a nationally coordinated system for sending emergency communications to radio, TV, cable, and other FCC-regulated public media. It started as Conelrad during the cold war and morphed into the Federal Communications Commission’s EAS (Emergency Alert System). That raucous buzz you hear on your radio, TV, and cellphone just before a weather warning is the digital data burst that allows such messages to propagate from a single source to virtually all electronic public media in mere seconds.

Now, with mass text messaging to mobile phones, written alerts can be communicated to private and public networks with even greater speed.

It’s heartening to see California’s example of large numbers of people taking the trouble to cut their energy use so that there would be enough for all with nobody left out. Perhaps there is a moral lesson here.

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