Don’t Waste Electricity During Heat Waves—It Can Lead to Power Outages

The corporation responsible for overseeing the region’s bulk power grid is asking people to be cautious of energy use during the extreme heat.

As Massachusetts enters its third heatwave of the summer season, and temperatures surpass the 90-degree mark, state officials and electric companies are warning residents to conserve energy in order to avoid widespread power outages.

ISO New England, the non-profit corporation responsible for overseeing the region’s bulk power grid, wholesale electricity markets, and power system planning was closely monitoring the state’s power grid as the high heat and humidity pushed up the demand for electricity usage. “As the heat continues to build throughout the week, electricity demand is expected to increase significantly, which is likely to result in tight system conditions,” said Vamsi Chadalavada, executive vice president and chief operating officer of ISO New England Inc. “The ISO is asking consumers to voluntarily conserve as a precautionary step to help manage system conditions.”

This week, New England’s electricity usage is forecast to reach near record-breaking levels, according to ISO representatives, with the highest peak demand forecasted for Thursday, July 18.

To combat that spike, officials from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency sent out Tweets to constituents as the temperatures began to rise Tuesday afternoon, urging them to defer households tasks like doing laundry and other chores requiring electricity until early morning or evening hours to conserve power during peak hours. “Turn off unneeded lights, appliances, and office equipment. Shut off [Air Conditioning] when leaving your home for extended periods of time,” officials wrote.

According to a report prepared by Mayor Tom Menino’s office, to help residents understand the risk of over-consumption during particularly hot summer days, there is a clear correlation between hot temperatures and stresses on the electricity grid. “One of the primary reasons for this spike in demand is increased air conditioning use. Air conditioners use more electricity than nearly any other household appliance,” the report said.

When the electricity grid is under such extreme stress, the ISO can declare what is called an “OP 4 Action,” which means that either a blackout or brownout, which can lead to the loss of power in one of the three regions the ISO monitors in the state, has occurred, will occur, or is very likely to occur.

When this happens, city and state officials urge residents to seek shelter at various cooling centers—but those too can be impacted if they don’t supply back-up generators. “In the event of a blackout or brownout, cooling centers without back-up generators lose the ability to provide a public air-conditioned place and people will have to find a cool location elsewhere. As a result, more people will have prolonged exposure to the heat which will further exacerbate health issues and, in the worst-case scenario, mortality rates,” the report said.

Representatives from National Grid said that their system is operating as it should at this time, and that the electricity flow isn’t an immediate concern. “We monitor supply and demand, and while electricity use is certainly up on the hottest days, customers should be assured there is supply,” said company spokesperson Debbie Drew. “In terms of ‘using too much,’ we are not currently in danger of that.”

The ISO takes necessary steps to ensure a blackout is avoided, as well. “If demand for electricity were to outstrip supply, the ISO has a series of well-established steps it can take to bring the system back into balance when forecasted demand is expected to be high, including calling on demand-response resources to curtail their electric energy use and seeking additional power from neighboring regions,” the company said in a statement.