Gone are the days when you can use electricity as you want and when you want, at least if you live in California or Texas. The California Independent System Operator is telling Californians when they can charge their electric vehicles and the best time to use electric appliances, and a Texas company dialed up the temperature in residences using home smart meters without notifying customers of the change. Those are the results of these states generating electricity from solar and wind power.
California currently gets 33 percent of its electricity from non-hydroelectric renewable sources, mostly solar and wind, with more required in the future. Texas has the most wind capacity of any state and can get nearly 50 percent of its generation from wind at certain times of the day. But, the unreliability of wind and solar power is causing these states to alter electricity demand either without consent or by asking for voluntary compliance. And, the situation will only become worse as more and more reliable generation sources such as natural gas, coal and nuclear get removed from the grid and as more electric vehicles populate our roads. Both of these actions are what President Biden wants for our future—all in the name of stopping climate change.
In June, when temperatures in California hit triple digits, the state’s power grid operators encouraged residents to relieve pressure on the grid by charging their electric vehicles before the peak energy use times of day. The California Independent System Operator, which oversees the grid, called upon Californians to conserve energy through the use of Flex Alerts, which ask residents to conserve energy on a voluntary basis. Charging electric vehicles before the time period covered by the alerts was included on a list of energy conservation tips, as was avoiding using large appliances and turning off unnecessary lights.
Electric vehicles are considered a major part of California’s energy plan over the next two decades. Last year, Governor Newsom set 2035 as the date for ending the sale of gas- and diesel-powered vehicles in California. As a result, California energy officials want to expand electric vehicle ownership and make charging stations more accessible. However, to keep the power grid balanced, Californians are encouraged to charge their electric vehicles at certain times of the day as designated by the California Independent System Operator and particularly as reliance on electric vehicles grows within the state.
California plans to use electricity rates to incentivize Californians into complying. Lower rates will apply when renewable energy is mostly being generated and will incentivize electric vehicle owners to charge their vehicles at those times. Electric vehicle owners now mostly charge their vehicles at night, but that will need to change so that more drivers are charging while energy production levels are higher, that is mainly when the sun shines and the wind blows.
In California, the aggregate load across the grid tends to spike in the evening hours when people come home from work. Energy use then tends to dip overnight while people are sleeping. But, in California, less energy is produced by solar and wind during those overnight hours. Thus, California is asking its residents to be flexible so that overnight charging can be moved to daytime hours, when renewable generation is more prevalent.
Texas is also going through a heatwave, and energy companies have either asked their customers to conserve energy and raise the temperatures on their thermostats or they have used smart meters to do so. A company called EnergyHub, which partners with power companies to monitor energy consumption, remotely accessed some customers’ Smart Devices to turn up the temperature in people’s homes without their express consent and without notifying them of the action. According to EnergyHub, customers opted into the “Smart Savers Texas” program, which gives the company permission to access their customers’ Smart thermostats at any time, in exchange for an entry in a sweepstakes contest offering $5,000 to the winning participant.
The EnergyHub website explains how it works: “You are entered into the “Win $5,000” sweepstakes each time you fully participate in a temperature adjustment event, up to a maximum of 8 entries per participant.” In other words, you receive a “sweepstakes ticket” each time the company changes your thermostat to save energy. Whichever ticket is selected receives up to $5,000 on their electric bills.
The fine print in the Smart Savers Texas program likely does notify participants of what they are agreeing to, but many customers had no idea they had signed up for thermostat manipulation, believing instead they were entering a sweepstakes. This incident highlights potential safety and privacy concerns that come with “Smart” technology. For instance, one EnergyHub customer cited a three-month-old child who could have overheated in a house whose temperature was raised remotely. And, once devices are connected to the internet, they are open to manipulation from outside sources.
President Biden wants to transform the U.S. electric grid into zero carbon-emitting generation sources by 2035 and to have an all-electric United States by 2050. The episodes in California last summer and Texas in February show that relying on wind and solar energy results in rolling blackouts at best and nearly 200 lost lives when the electricity grid in these states could not function at a level Americans are accustomed to. More recently, high temperatures have caused entities in these states to ask for voluntary compliance or have used company manipulation of smart meters to avoid brownouts and blackouts. None of these actions would have been necessary if the United States continued to use reliable coal, natural gas and nuclear power for its generation sources.