What You Need to Know About the Power Grid During This Heat Wave - The World News

What You Need to Know About the Power Grid During This Heat Wave

The heat wave has broken temperature records across the Midwest and Northeast and put 100 million people under heat advisories. But there’s a silver lining, at least so far: Experts say the energy grid has held up well, thanks in part to increased solar capacity — a promising indicator of its resilience this summer.

Periods of high heat carry an elevated risk of power outages, as energy demand spikes and impairs the ability of utilities to generate and transmit power. During this heat wave, Americans have so far been able to crank up their air-conditioners and fans without triggering a major blackout.

“The grid is performing well,” said Mark Olson, who manages the grid reliability assessments at the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, a nonprofit organization that develops and enforces standards for the utility industry.

Here’s what you need to know about power and the heat.

So far, there have been a limited number of power outages during the heat wave. And where they have occurred, storms were largely to blame.

In Southeast Michigan and the greater Pittsburgh area in Pennsylvania, powerful storms knocked out power for tens of thousands of customers. As of Friday afternoon, about 16,000 people in Michigan were still without electricity.

“We’ve just been hot and patient,” said Connie Wynn, whose power in Lathrup Village, Mich., has been out since Wednesday night.

An additional 48,000 customers lost power in Eastern New York on Thursday night because of storms and wind, but most of them had power again on Friday, according to National Grid, which provides service for the area

On Thursday evening, about 6,800 New Jersey customers lost power, but most saw it restored as of Friday morning. The cause was still under investigation.

In New York City, there have been no major outages so far, according to Philip O’Brien, a spokesman for Con Edison, which serves the five boroughs and Westchester County.

As the heat wave slogged on for a fifth day, grid operators across the country were reporting that supply was keeping up with demand. That includes the operators that serve the Mid-Atlantic States, where temperatures are forecast to soar into the middle and upper 90s through the weekend, and the Midwest, where forecasters say swaths of Ohio and Indiana are especially at risk from the extreme heat.

Experts said the performance of grids in this heat wave is reason for cautious optimism. The absence of blackouts is a promising sign that operators can handle high temperatures later in the summer, although much can change between now and then, they said.

Michael Webber, a professor and energy expert at the University of Texas at Austin, said the nation’s grids have had many factors working in their favor in this heat wave.

Spring maintenance means the infrastructure is fresh, and the heat wave has not hit the entire country, so grid operators can import power from other regions, he said. Operators have also added solar capacity, which performs well during heat waves, as the sun tends to be out. Plus, it is early in the summer, so the ground and infrastructure are not retaining as much heat from earlier periods as they will later in the year.

“I feel comfortable about where we are, but I don’t feel relaxed,” Mr. Webber said.

According to N.E.R.C., the grid has also been fortified by an increase in solar power and battery storage, which shores up supply. Grid operators are also doing more to expand programs that allow consumers to monitor and modify their energy consumption during times of peak demand, which can take pressure off the grid.

“We’re in better shape than last year, all things considered,” said Mr. Olson.

Still, N.E.R.C. has warned that large parts of the country are at risk of supply shortfalls during extreme conditions.

There are steps you can take to help prevent blackouts. Many are simple and inexpensive, such as setting your thermostat a few degrees higher and not cooling unused rooms. The load on the grid also varies throughout the day, so moving energy-intensive activities, such as running a washing machine or a dishwasher, to off-peak hours can help.

If you find yourself in a blackout, take action to stay cool. Blackouts during heat waves are not just a nuisance — they can be deadly, especially for those in populations that are vulnerable to extreme heat, such as older people.

Your priority during a blackout should be finding a way to stay cool, said Brian Calka of DTE Energy, which serves the region of Michigan that experienced outages. He recommended reaching out to friends, family or neighbors with power or seeking out a cooling center to escape the heat. If those steps are not possible, he encouraged covering up your windows to prevent your home from warming up and heading downstairs into a basement, if possible.

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