Extreme temperatures in the city of Berkeley resulted in ongoing concerns over the accessibility of UC Berkeley classrooms and additional stress to the California power grid.
An Extreme Heat Advisory was put into effect Tuesday through Thursday for parts of the Bay Area as temperatures exceeding 95 degrees led to a statewide plea for energy conservation during the peak hours of 4 to 9 p.m.
With temperatures rising, students and faculty struggled to stay cool while making use of campus facilities and buildings.
Campus associate professor of English Maura Nolan noted being especially impacted by the extreme weather. Nolan suffers from multiple sclerosis, a chronic disease that slows the central nervous system. The resulting symptoms of pain and fatigue are aggravated by hot temperatures, leading to difficulties in memory retention, balance and focus.
“(Multiple sclerosis) makes it difficult to lecture to a class because that requires an enormous amount of concentration,” Nolan said.
As a result of the heatwave, Nolan moved her in-person lectures online to both conserve energy and to mitigate exposure to the high temperatures, adding that the lack of cooling systems in classrooms would have likely hindered her performance.
According to campus spokesperson Janet Gilmore, many campus buildings lack air-conditioning systems due to their age, the region’s historically moderate climate and the administration’s concern for energy efficiency. She noted, however, that most buildings are equipped with “operable windows.”
“UC Berkeley has buildings that are brand-new and buildings that are more than 100 years old,” Gilmore said in an email. “Many were built before air conditioning was an option.”
With respect to the intense heat faced Tuesday, there were fears of power grid outages across the state, according to campus associate professor of energy and resources Duncan Callaway.
Grid operators had warned utility providers they would potentially have to cut off customer supply in order to further conserve energy, Callaway added.
“Long-term horizon, there’s no question that we’re going to have more heat waves and more people with electricity,” Callaway said. “In the future matters will only get worse.”
As heat waves continue, the city will have to find more customers who are willing to voluntarily reduce their power usage during peak hours, according to Callaway. He noted that one method calls for residents to pre-cool their homes by running air conditioners earlier in the day. Doing so will decrease the demand for electricity during the grid’s busiest hours.
On the supply side, Callaway said energy storage is key to preventing future outages. He noted that intense heat waves are usually accompanied by high levels of daytime solar output. As of now, solar power acquired throughout the day is ill-timed for the evening hours of peak demand due to insufficient storage methods and availability.
“With enough storage we can be charging energy storage in the middle of the day before the peak happens and discharge it later on,” Callaway said.
In the meantime, Gilmore reminded community members to stay vigilant about hydration, advising them to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related illnesses.
Gilmore also recommended limiting outdoor exercise and exposure to direct heat.
“During a heat wave, check on your friends and family and have someone do the same for you,” the campus University Health Services website reads. “If you know someone who is elderly or has a health condition, check on them twice a day during a heat wave.”
City spokesperson Matthai Chakko said Berkeley’s air-conditioned public sites remain open amid the heat. Such places include the Central, Tarea Hall Pittman South and Claremont libraries and the South Berkeley Senior Center, the latter available for those who are 55 years old and older.