What Bay Area heat means for the electrical grid

With the Bay Area facing two to three day heat event, we wanted to know what the odds were that power issues might come up as they did in Mid-August. Here's a rundown of what's expect and what may catch us by surprise.

Every time we have an extreme heat event, power issues are likely to arise, especially when we've recently come off a historically high one.

Because there is a complex formula of necessary conditions for Public Safety Power Shutoffs, PG&E says in the greater Bay Region, there is no immediate likelihood of a PSPS event over the hot weekend. A key element for a PSPS would be the a National Weather Service Red Flag Warning, which the Weather Service says is unlikely over the weekend.

But if any wildfire that threatens to short out or topple power lines could force localized power shutoffs. And, be warned, in extreme heat, power equipment can fail especially Sunday and Monday.

"With these triple digit temperatures, there could be some heat related outages in the area where it's a hundred degrees of more for a long period of time. So, we want our customers to be prepared," said PG&E spokesperson Deanne Contreras.

PG&E will have some cooling centers over the weekend where warranted.

"These cooling centers will take Covid-19 rules into account with regards to social distancing, wearing masks, hand washing stations," said Contreras.

CAISO, the power grid operators, say they do not expect demand to outstrip the available electricity supply and, therefore, anticipate no rolling blackouts. However, if enough power plants were to shut down for technical reasons, the remote possibility of rolling blackouts still exists.

Here's where it gets complicated and a bit scary. In Santa Rosa, which is activating a cooling center, an Excessive Heat Watch will go into effect from Saturday through Monday. "That's gonna be a weekend of hot, high temperatures, dry conditions and the, from going into a Excessive Heat Watch on the weekend, we're gonna roll straight into what's being look at now as potentially critical fire weather, with the Fire Weather Watch already going into effect starting Monday," said Assistant Santa Rosa Fire Marshall Paul Lowenthal.

Though any and all of this can change with real time conditions, next week could be far more serious.  

"We have historically seen a Fire Weather Watch turn into a Red Flag Warning," said Lowenthal.

With it being so hot and so dry, fire officials say anything involving open flames or sparks, including barbecues, is a bad idea over the Labor Day weekend and possibly well into next week.