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Verizon resorts to backup power amid California heatwave

US telco Verizon has adopted emergency measures to keep its network up and running, as record-breaking temperatures put the strain on California’s power grid.

With the mercury topping 43 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit) in multiple locations this week, the California Independent System Operator (ISO) – which oversees the State’s electricity generation – warned consumers on Tuesday to prepare for rolling blackouts as part of its effort to lower demand and stabilise supply.

It also issued a so-called Flex Alert urging consumers to conserve electricity between the hours of 4pm and 9pm, which is when demand on the grid typically peaks because solar generation begins to go offline just as people arrive home from work and switch on their air conditioners and other power-hungry home appliances.

In a statement, Verizon said it resorted to using backup power at six of its mobile switching centres during Tuesday’s Flex Alert in order to ease the strain on the grid. The use of backup generators is usually reserved for network emergencies, it said. Verizon engineers were deployed at each location to closely monitor performance and ensure customers remained connected.

“Throughout the year, Verizon Wireless prepares comprehensive disaster recovery plans to test emergency generators and back-up batteries to keep the network online in the event of a power outage. By proactively running the switches on backup power during the Flex Alert period today, Verizon hopes to free up power resources so residents and businesses can stay connected to essential services,” the telco said.

In addition, Verizon said between now and 12 September it will increase the temperature in its California retail outlets. Its stores will also reduce air conditioning use by 1 hour, and close any blinds and shutters to keep the sun out.

California’s Flex Alert achieved the desired result, with Governor Gavin Newsom tweeting late on Tuesday that power outages were avoided.

So far, Verizon appears to be the only one of the big three US telcos to have publicly discussed its response to the heatwave. Telecoms.com reached out to both AT&T and T-Mobile to ask if they too have done anything to ease the strain on the grid, and will share any responses received.

While temperatures are expected to ease off again early next week – according to the US National Weather Service – heatwaves are expected to affect more parts of the country going forward. According to a study published last month by climate researcher First Street Foundation, this year 8 million Americans will be subject to ‘extreme heat’ – which describes temperatures above 50 degrees C. By 2053, extreme heat is expected to affect 107 million Americans. For telcos like Verizon, switching to alternative power generation looks set to become a more regular occurrence.

A forecast like this also underscores the need for telcos to adopt energy efficient network technology and make greater use of renewable power sources. Indeed, over the coming years, 5G network deployments are expected to focus increasingly on densification, which means rolling out and switching on a considerable number of new cell sites. The power will have to come from somewhere, but if the grid capacity is all being taken up by air conditioners, it could leave operators reaching for their backup generators.

 

09:00, 8/9/22 – An AT&T spokesperson got back to us with the following statement:

“We’re taking several actions to conserve energy and prevent power outages in California. This includes transitioning our cell sites to a power save mode, which reduces our wireless energy usage by 25%. Since Monday, we’ve moved two of our data centers and highest energy consuming central offices to backup power during peak hours and will continue to do so through the Flex Alert. We’ve also encouraged our California employees to reduce their power consumption during peak hours and provided resources on how to best do this. These combined efforts are expected to save enough energy to power more than an estimated 2,000 homes each day.”

 

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