by Daisy Luther
The power grid in the US is old and tenuous, and with the current “heat dome” that has settled over the southwestern part of the country, the risk of demand outstripping supply is very real. High-temperature records were set in several states yesterday:
- Death Valley, CA: 127
- Las Vegas, NV: 112
- Palm Springs, CA: 121
- Phoenix, AZ: 116
California utility companies have asked citizens to reduce power usage as much as possible or face rotating power outages to manage the strain on the grid.
The California Independent System Operator (ISO), the grid operator, said it issued the so-called “Flex Alert” due to high temperatures across the western United States, reduced electricity imports into the state, tight natural gas supplies in Southern California and high wildfire risk.
The ISO’s alert followed an earlier notice by Southern California Gas Co (SoCalGas), the gas utility for the southern part of the state.
SoCalGas issued a gas curtailment watch on Monday, notifying customers to be prepared to reduce gas use if needed, with power generators expected to burn more fuel this week than usual to keep air conditioners humming.
SoCalGas, a unit of California energy company Sempra Energy, said the watch would remain in effect until further notice…
The ISO said consumers “can help avoid power interruptions” by turning off all unnecessary lights, using major appliances before 5 p.m. and after 9 p.m., and setting air conditioners to 78 degrees or higher.
Gas supplies are expected to remain tight in Southern California this summer and winter due to reduced availability from SoCalGas’ Aliso Canyon storage facility in Los Angeles, following a massive leak between October 2015 and February 2016, and ongoing shutdowns of several pipelines. (source)
If you recall, California utility company PG&E recently told customers that they were planning to cut the power to specific areas during times of increased wildfire risk, after being found at fault for causing several of the biggest, deadliest wildfires last year. The threat of power being cut in California for a variety of reasons is certainly starting to look like a trend, isn’t it?
How can you reduce power usage during the hottest times of the year?
There are a few tricks that can help you to reduce the temperature in your house when the mercury rises.
Avoid heating up your house. Limit the use of appliances like clothes dryers, washing machines (especially using hot water wash), dishwashers, ovens, and halogen light bulbs. All of these increase the ambient heat in your home.
Cool things down naturally. Here is how I handled the California heat when I lived in a place with no AC.
- As soon as it starts to cool down in the evening, open all of the windows and blinds. There’s a ceiling fan in every room and those run all the time.
- We also have some window fans which we turn on in the evening. These pulls in the lovely cool night air.
- In the morning, the house is so cool that sometimes you need a hoodie during that first cup of coffee!
- I then go around and close all of the windows and blinds. This keeps out the heat and keeps the house from passively warming up from the sun. (In the winter, I do the opposite of this in order to heat the house using the sun.) The ceiling fans continue to run all day and we have small oscillating fans to use in the rooms we are in.
- Rarely does the temperature in my house ever rise about 85 degrees. That’s pretty warm but certainly not intolerable.
If you combine this WITH your air conditioner, you’ll stay even cooler.
Don’t be afraid to sweat. That is evaporative cooling for humans. If you allow yourself to sweat more often, your body will become more efficient at cooling down.
Take a siesta. There’s a reason people in hotter parts of the world take a break during the heat of the afternoon. If you are at home, spend the hottest hours doing something sedentary and save the harder work for cooler hours.
Here are some ways to keep cool if the power goes out during a heatwave.
This is easier said than done when it’s 105 and you can’t even plug in a fan. Nonetheless, these ideas will help you stay a little bit cooler when the grid is down:
- Get battery-operated fans. (And lots of batteries.) A battery-operated fan can help cool you down, particularly if you get yourself wet first. They’re reasonably inexpensive and work well, although I recommend spending a bit more than for the cheap ones at the dollar store. This one is big enough to reach more than one part of your body at a time and can help you get to sleep. 6 D batteries will run it for about 40 hours. These handheld fans are rechargeable (so you will either need an off-grid way to recharge them or you’ll need backups), these handheld fans have a misting option (also rechargeable) and these handheld fans are powered for up to 8 hours by 2 AA batteries.
- Stock up on cooling towels. I picked up some these cooling towels for use when I was working outside in the garden. I was stunned at how well they work. All you do is get them wet, wring them out, and give them a snap, then they cool you down, no power or refrigeration required. You can use them over and over again. They also come in these bands that can be worn around your head or neck.
- Channel your inner Southern belle. Slowly fan yourself with a handheld fan. Mint juleps are optional.
- Keep hydrated. Your body needs the extra water to help produce sweat, which cools you off.
- Take a cool shower and a nap. Take a tepid shower and then, without drying off, lay down and try to take a nap. At the very least, do a quiet activity.
- Play in the water. Either place a kiddie pool in a shaded part of the yard or use the bathtub indoors. Find a nearby creek or pond for wading or swimming. (Note: Playing in the water isn’t just for kids!)
- Soak your feet. A foot bath full of tepid water can help cool you down.
- Avoid heavy meals. Your body has to work hard to digest heavy, rich meals, and this raises your temperature. Be gentle on your system with light, cool meals like salads and fruit.
- Make sure your window screens are in good condition. You’re going to need to have your windows open, but fighting off insects when you’re trying to sleep is a miserable and frustrating endeavor.
Scott Kelley from Graywolf Survival has super-easy instructions for making your own air conditioner that will help cool down one room as long as the power is still on. His design doesn’t require ice, it’s VERY budget-friendly, and he offers suggestions for alternative power, as well. It’s a must-read!
Do you have suggestions?
Do you live in the Southwest? Are you restricting your power use? For those in warmer climates, what is your plan to stay cool during these blazing hot days? Please share your thoughts in comments below.