Amid reports of power outages in New England and a major heat wave that won’t break for days, some might be wondering whether the region’s power grid can handle the area’s electric needs.
At the same time, National Grid and Eversource are asking people to limit their energy use during peak hours.
But the group in charge of the region’s power grid says Massachusetts residents need not worry about the reliability of the grid this summer — even as regulators warn of potential blackouts and shortages in other states. Here’s why.
Is there too much stress on the grid this summer?
No, according to ISO New England, the nonprofit that operates the region’s power grid. Data published by ISO show that as of this morning, the grid had about 27,200 megawatts of available energy, with estimated demand for over 24,100 megawatts.
In its summer outlook report, ISO said New England’s grid is expected to have enough supply to meet demand for electricity this summer
“What we’re seeing right now, in terms of demand on the system, is in line with what we’ve seen in recent years,” said Matt Kakley, a spokesperson for ISO.
Last summer, energy use peaked 25,800 megawatts on June 29. The all-time record for electricity use was set in 2006 at 28,100 megawatts, following a prolonged heat wave, ISO found.
What about the recent local power outages?
It’s true that thousands of homes in communities across Eastern Massachusetts experienced power outages on Wednesday. But local outages do not necessarily mean that the grid is buckling.
The outage in Acton, which affected 11,000 Eversource customers Wednesday, happened due to “a heat-related equipment issue” at a substation. Another “weather-related equipment failure” occurred later that evening, causing another outage.
(These outages, which are local and accidental, are much different than rolling blackouts, which are widespread and intentional efforts to conserve energy.)
William Hinkle, a spokesperson for Eversource, said it is common for equipment to overheat during consecutive warm days, though the company is constantly trying to shift energy loads on power lines to avoid them. He said heat-related equipment issues can happen when equipment overheats, either directly because of the temperature or due to increased usage.
“It’s not unlike other pieces of technology,” Hinkle said. “If you let [it] get hot, that can create issues; if you use it a lot, that can create issues. They exacerbate each other.”
(National Grid on Wednesday also responded to a power outage, but spokesperson Christine Milligan said it was due to an animal coming in to contact with equipment and not related to the heat.)
Wait, I thought local regulators and industry experts were concerned about the region’s power grid reliability.
They are. But even though demand for electricity in New England is highest in the summer because of air conditioning use, concerns about the grid’s reliability are specific to the winter.
That’s because about 60 percent of the region’s electricity is generated by natural gas. In the winter, customers who use gas to heat their homes receive gas before of the region’s power plants. When people turn up their heat during particularly frigid times, this can cause a run on supply.
“Fuel availability concerns just aren’t as prevalent in in the summer,” Kakley. “People aren’t heating their homes.”
So then why are utility companies asking people to limit their energy use this week?
National Grid and Eversource are asking customers to turn up their thermostat a couple degrees and limit the use air conditioners and large electric appliances like ovens and clothing dryers during the peak hours of 2-7 p.m.
“Your effort to reduce energy will make a difference,” National Grid wrote in an e-mail Thursday.
But messages like these from utility companies are mainly sent for financial reasons, Kakley from ISO said, since power is more expensive during peak times.
Kakley added that ISO would ask people to conserve energy if it was concerned demand might outweigh supply, “but we have not done that in a number of years.”
Anissa Gardizy can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @anissagardizy8 and on Instagram @anissagardizy.journalism.