July sets all-time record for electricity use
July marked a new all-time record for electricity use in the United States, and that was prior to even hotter weather straining the power grid this week. The Edison Electric Institute, the national association for investor-owned utilities, says demand across the country reached 360,609 gigawatt hours in July, 1.8 percent higher than the record set in July 2005 and up 17.7 percent over July 2000.
Hot weather, a relatively strong economy, and other factors difficultto measure appear to be pushing demand upward.
"We continue to live in everbigger houses with more electronic technologies, like ... home theaters and multiple computers and subzero refrigerators," says Jim Owen, spokesman for EEI. "All that stuff incrementally drives a lot of demand." That's true even though most kitchen appliances, he points out, are four times as efficient as they were a generation ago.
PJM Interconnection, the huge grid operator for 51 million residents in the mid-Atlantic states, on Wednesday reported its second peak demand record in two days, shattering the previous record set on July 17. By the end of Thursday afternoon, PJM put out a warning for the first time this year that there might be voltage reductions in some areas, because power supplies were running so tight.
Since most appliances are designed to handle minor fluctuations, the grid operator did not expect that customers would notice any change. But it underscored how hard the system was running. PJM was unable to import power, as it typically would do, from areas like New York, which was in the grip of the same heat wave. And scattered generating unit outages were also reducing capacity.
"A unit might trip and come off line for any number of reasons--high heat and damage," says Paula DuPont-Kidd, PJM spokeswoman. "Or it could be because there are heavy vibrations from the equipment, or all sorts of reasons. Some of it is typical and would happen on any given day, but today we need everything."
Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a leading consulting firm, noted that hot weather causes more incidents of equipment failure in electricity distribution systems. CERA says demand has reached levels that were not expected for another three or four years, and it estimates that $18 billion in annual investment in electric power systems is needed to prevent outages.
"This year's soaring temperatures are sending a new wake-up call for U.S. electric power," said a CERA analysis.