In the summertime, when the weather is hot, so is Philadelphia’s electric power grid.
Energy customers’ high use of air conditioners, fans and other cooling devices during the summer months often lead to fears of power outages. Aside from a few reported isolated incidents of power loss during last week’s heat wave, PECO spokesman Ben Armstrong said Philly’s power grid is hanging tough through the heat and he knows why.
“You have to watch how your customers are using energy really closely to make sure they’re not using more than the system is capable of managing,” Armstrong said. “I would say the reason the system held up so well is the investment PECO makes in it year over year. We know our customers want the lights on when they hit the switch, and we work hard to ensure that when they hit that switch, they get the power that they need.”
PECO maintains energy for more than 1.6 million electric customers in Pennsylvania.
Armstrong says PECO recently invested nearly $400 million in its service territory, adding larger substations, new transformers and new electric lines to ensure reliable service to tens of thousands of energy customers.
Last week, the region saw its hottest day of the year in the midst of seven consecutive days of temperatures in the high nineties.
While meteorologists say this was an above average heat wave for the region, Armstrong said usage levels were tame compared to previous years. According to Armstrong, use from customers reached a record high in July 2011, a month when PECO had five top 20 usage days.
“We did not see customers push usage to record levels, but there was an increase overall. To achieve record level usage you really need a prolonged period of record heat,” he said.
“It all depends on the weather and we saw a taste of what summer can be like last week, but it’s important to understand that we’ve invested in our system and that we’re here to meet the customer’s needs.”
Armstrong said PECO takes a number of proactive and reactive measures to maintain power during extreme heat temperatures, including performing routine equipment inspections prior to the summer season, offering rebates to customers who use energy efficient appliances, and adding extra staff when needed.
“We have a number of programs in place to help customers conserve energy during the summer months. We have about 90,000 customers participating in our program where we’ve placed devices on their air conditioner compressors. We pay them $20 per month during the summer, to allow us to cycle their air conditioners on and off for 15 minute cycles for a period of time to manage the overall customer usage and the load that customers are placing on the system during days of extreme temperatures,” he said.
“There is also a lot of summer readiness work that we have completed by June 1st of each year to ensure our system is ready for that period of high usage. We did have additional staffing, not just for the heat, but also due to the potential for severe storms that are associated with extreme heat and humidity.”
Armstrong also recommended a number of simple tips customers can use to keep cool during the summer months, including closing the shades and not using appliances that produce heat or using them later on at night.
Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) regulates utility providers in Pennsylvania, including PECO. Overall, PUC spokesman Jennifer Kocher said PECO did a good job minimizing and responding to small outages throughout the heat wave.
“In order for an incident to be reported to PUC you have to have 2,500 customers or more who are out of service for 6 or more consecutive hours. We didn’t have any reports during last week’s heat wave,” Kocher said.
“PECO did well; all of our utilities did well and so did consumers. We think consumers heeded the advice to conserve electricity, and it not only helps the grid but it helps their pocketbooks as well,” Kocher said.
Tips and more information about PECO’s energy saving services can be found at peco.com/smart ideas.