Heatwave Demonstrates Weakness of New York’s Electric Grid

High temperatures caused New York City Mayor Eric Adams to announce that hundreds of buildings will cut back on energy use to help ensure electrical grid reliability.

In addition he called for people to set their thermostats for 78 degrees, a temperature that can make sleeping difficult, impacting health and productivity.

Initiatives like this are called “demand-response” programs, and they’re designed to limit the load on the electrical grid. When temperatures skyrocket, people normally crank up the air conditioning. By asking people to accept being less comfortable, peak demand is diminished.

This can save money and limit air pollution if it means fewer peaker plants need to be turned on. (Peakers are natural gas plants that are turned on only during periods of highest demand.)

But it also highlights the danger that extreme temperatures pose to the reliability of the electrical grid.

For now the City is likely to dodge disaster with these stopgap measures. But the state’s Peaker Plant rule will begin forcing the shutdown of some of those facilities beginning next year. This will put the state much closer to not being able to manage future heatwaves.

According to the New York Independent System Operator (NYSIO), the non-profit corporation responsible for managing the state’s electrical grid, if temperatures soar to 98 degrees, the grid would be close to its limits. Starting next year that kind of weather would surpass the grid’s capabilities to meet demand, because fewer peaker plants will be available. Even 95-degree heat would test the system’s capacities as early as next year.

In that case utilities will have to conduct rolling blackouts to keep the entire system from crashing.

That’s because the state, in its rushed transition to renewable energy, is taking reliable energy sources off-line faster than it’s bringing new sources on-line. And the wind and solar that are supposed to replace the existing sources are not reliable.

We can’t command the sun to shine and the wind to blow at our convenience. It may be sunny when it’s hot, but high-pressure systems often have little air movement. As this was written, for example, NYISO’s real-time dashboard showed wind producing only 1 percent of the state’s electricity.

It’s easy for advocates of renewables to point to a future of clean, non-polluting energy production. It’s also easy to advocate that people turn off or turn down their air conditioners.

But extreme temperatures kill people, particularly the elderly. Already this year over 1,700 people have died in heatwaves in Spain and Portugal. Air conditioning is not a luxury – it is a lifesaver.

Instead of setting up a system of unreliable energy and demanding that people suffer, we should be building a system that can handle the peak demand that saves lives. Without a reliable source of backup energy production, New York faces a dark future.

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