This recent heat wave put our utility systems to the test. I’m proud to say, our system performed very well, no brownouts, no voltage reductions – measures a utility must take when demand for electricity exceeds supply. Here’s why:
Over the past few years, we’ve made significant investments in our transmission system that enable us to transport more electricity, more reliably than ever before. These upgrades also mean we can import more power into “load pockets” – areas that require more energy during extreme heat.
To feed these transmission lines, energy is generated at our power plants. PSEG Power’s generating stations, which run at full load during the heat, were dispatched and operated successfully, including some that hadn’t operated since earlier this year.
Transmission upgrades ensure we can get power to our lower voltage distribution system. But after we “transmit” the power over long distances (sometimes on structures as tall as 28 stories high), we still need to “distribute” it to our customers. Our investments in distribution include raising, rebuilding and relocating substations; creating more resilience and redundancy in our system; and deploying smart grid technologies that allow us to better monitor systems and more quickly deploy repair teams.
Even with all of this additional capacity and upgrades, equipment does sometimes fail. In the extreme heat this weekend, those failures were isolated. We only experienced small pockets of outages, due to our equipment becoming overheated and/or overloaded.
During a heat wave, equipment gets hot during the day, and it stays hot at night. Meaning, it starts the morning hotter the second day than the first. The longer this trend continues, the more likely equipment is to fail. Really hot weather often takes a toll on our transformers – the round barrels you see atop poles in neighborhoods that step down the power to a voltage suitable for home use.
We got a bit of a break this weekend. Not from the heat, but from the loads required to beat the heat. The brunt of the high-temperatures and humidity hit over the weekend, when loads tend to drop because commercial and manufacturing operations are closed.
This past weekend, our system peaked at 9,800 megawatts at 6 p.m. on Friday, below our all-time summer peak that was set on Aug. 2, 2006, at 11,108 megawatts. These megawatt numbers are a measure of the amount of electricity we provide to customers. Peaks tend to happen near the end of the day, when people return home or have just had it with the heat.
In the utility business, “brownout” is a dirty word. Ten years ago, brownouts during heat waves were common, but I’m pleased to report that we haven’t had to reduce voltage to our customers in a number of years. With our continued investments in our system, we hope to permanently remove the word brownout from our vocabulary in the future.
John Latka, Senior Vice President Electric & Gas Operations – PSE&G