New England is expected to set this year's record for energy consumption today, as the summer's most recent heat wave drags on.
The Independent System Operator of New England, which manages the region's electricity grid from control centers in Holyoke, Mass., is predicting peak demand of 27,600 megawatts, after pumping 26,210 megawatts into the grid on Tuesday and 26,500 on Wednesday.
Electricity consumption each day this week has already topped the high-water mark for 2012, which was 25,880 megawatts on July 17, 2012. The totals are approaching the region's all-time record for electricity usage, 28,130 megawatts, set on Aug. 2, 2006.
"We're looking at about 27,600 megawatts for Thursday," said Marcia Blomberg, a spokesperson for ISO-NE. "If it hits that, it would be third on the list of highest demand days ever."
As the hot and humid conditions persist, experts say, tolerance begins to decline and people use more energy than ever to stay comfortable.
"Plain and simple, this week may feel the worst of any week for this summer in the Northeast," Accuweather.com meteorologist Alex Sosnowski told Reuters. "The I-95 region will be a virtual sauna bath."
Although energy plants throughout the region at this point appear capable of meeting the demand, ISO officials are urging voluntary conservation measures as a precaution.
"As the heat continues to build, electricity demand is expected to increase significantly, which is likely to result in tight system conditions, said Vasmi Chadalavada, vice president and chief operating office at ISO New England. "The ISO is asking consumers to voluntarily conserve as a precautionary step to help manage system conditions."
Despite the peak demand on the system, ISO is not likely to experience conditions like those in January and February that nearly forced grid operators to impose roving blackouts.
The majority of New England's power plants are now fueled by natural gas, which has become the power supply of choice given its lower price and cleaner burning attributes. In the winter, power plants compete with regulated utilities that provide natural gas to heat homes. The utilities have guaranteed contracts that ensure them their share of the limited supply, thus constraining the amount needed for power plants.
In the summer, no one is using natural gas to heat their home, so there's little likelihood of any shortage, as long as there is no major disruption to supply. "In terms of supply, there can always be things that happen on the pipelines," said Blomberg, which is part of the reason for the conservation request.
ISO urges consumers to be particularly attentive to energy use between noon and 8 p.m., and to take the following steps: Raise air conditioner temperatures a few degrees if health permits, to between 74 and 78 degrees; turn off unneeded lights, appliances and office equipment; do not run air conditions while away for any extended period; and defer chores like laundry to early morning or late evening hours.
If demand for electricity does outstrip supply, the ISO would seek additional power from neighboring regions in the Northeast.