Energy consumption hit record highs this spring in the Carolinas. The power grid will continue to feel the heat, experts say. | Local News

A late spring heat wave that scorched North Carolina provided insight into how hotter summers and customer demand are expected to test the state’s power grid.

On June 13, the second day of nearly a week when temperatures hit 90s daily across much of the state, Duke Energy customers in central and western North Carolina Upstate and upstate South Carolina taxed the power grid like never before in hot weather.

Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. that Monday, as temperatures soared and residents turned on home air conditioners after their commute to work, Duke Energy Carolinas customers used a record 21,086 megawatt hours of power. ‘electricity.

This record, which surpassed the previous record nearly six years earlier, lasted two days.

On June 15, the same customers reached 21,265 megawatt hours of electricity consumption between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m.

The company also set a separate record on June 13 when Duke Energy Carolinas and Duke Energy Progress – which serves the Asheville, Raleigh and large parts of eastern North Carolina and the Pee Dee region in South Carolina – combined to use 34,079 megawatt hours of electricity. .

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These standards will probably not last long.

Extreme weather related to climate change and continued customer growth fueled by North Carolina’s growing population are expected to test the resilience of the power grid and drive energy demand to unprecedented levels.

For Duke Energy, North Carolina’s largest utility, based in Charlotte, those challenges are already a reality.

“We have seen the frequency and intensity of storms increase in many regions, so we are working to strengthen our system to make it more resilient to weather-related outages and to enable reliable operations in extreme conditions such as high heat or freezing,” Duke said. Energy spokesman Jeff Brooks. “We are working to make our network more climate-resilient, and this work is especially important on days when conditions are extreme and power demand is highest.”

hot and hotter

Over the past half-century, average summer temperatures in the Triad have risen nearly 3 degrees, according to Climate Central, a nonprofit that tracks national and local weather trends. For the same period, the average number of summer days with above-normal temperatures jumped by 26.

These types of trends are expected to continue.

The North Carolina Climate Science Report, released in 2020 by the NC Institute for Climate Studies, predicted that summers in the state will continue to get warmer, there will be more days with extreme heat, that record temperatures will rise and that the heat the weather will start earlier and end later.

Overall, the report predicts that average annual temperatures will increase by 2 to 4 degrees by the middle of this century, depending on the rate and magnitude of reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Trends and forecasts are critical to Duke Energy’s planning process, Brooks said.

“Data is one of our best tools to ensure the power grid is ready to meet current and future weather and climate challenges,” he explained. “We use massive amounts of historical usage data to determine how much energy will need to be generated at any given time to meet customer energy needs.”

The company is also integrating artificial intelligence to guide improvements and improve efficiency, he added.

Launch it all

A quirk of climate change in much of the United States is that summer nights are warming up more than days. In the Triad, the average nighttime temperature in summer has increased by 3.7 degrees over the past 50 years, reports Climate Central.

Although likely less noticeable than extreme daytime heat, what happens when most of us are sleeping still has a significant effect on electricity demand, Brooks noted.

“When we have long days with very high temperatures and limited cooling at night, it forces air conditioners to work harder around the clock and our network to work harder,” he said. “So we often see higher usage trends when warm spells also include warm nights with limited cooling.”

Day and night, the outside temperatures influence the regulation of the indoor climate.

“With increasingly hot summers, we’re spending more and more time indoors, turning on our air conditioning,” said Rajesh Kapileshwari, a Winston-Salem engineer and clean energy advocate who specializes in design of sustainable and energy-efficient buildings. “Energy consumption is increasing and we are setting new records for electricity demand.”

About three-quarters of electricity in the United States is used by buildings, and about 40 percent of electricity in buildings is used for heating and cooling, Kapileshwari noted.

“Having worked with building energy systems for three decades, I’ve come to realize that our buildings are inherently wasteful and, over the years, increasingly inefficient,” he said.

Higher summer temperatures and inefficient buildings multiply energy consumption, further taxing the power grid. If this electricity is generated, in whole or in part, by the combustion of fossil fuels, the carbon footprint of this building also increases.

“These problems will only get worse unless we take steps to reduce our energy consumption,” Kapileshwari insisted. “Building more power plants to meet our growing energy needs is not a solution.”

Legislation passed by the NC General Assembly and signed by Governor Roy Cooper in October 2021 called on the NC Public Utilities Commission to “take all reasonable steps” to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in the production of electricity. electricity by 70% by 2030 and make them carbon dioxide. neutral by 2050.

“While ‘greening’ our power generation to solve the climate crisis is a good first step, we also need to focus on the demand side of the equation,” Kapileshwari suggested.

“What the summer has in store for us”

Duke Energy, whose own plan to meet state emissions targets is under review by the Public Utilities Commission after it was criticized by some environmental groups for not switching to renewable sources quickly enough, said consumption a key element of its plans.

“We’ve established three different summer peaks so far, and it’s only June,” Duke’s Brooks noted. “So it will be interesting to see what the summer holds for statewide use.”

He offered the following tips to reduce energy consumption in the summer:

  • Set the thermostat to the highest comfortable setting. Every 2 degrees you adjust the thermostat closer to the outside temperature can save up to 5% on your air conditioning costs.
  • Make sure air filters are clean and changed regularly. A dirty filter can increase your HVAC unit’s operating costs and make it more efficient when you need it most.
  • Close the blinds on the sunny side of the house on hot days to keep the heat out and the cooler air in.
  • Use a ceiling fan, set counter-clockwise, to maintain comfort while using less of your air conditioning. A fan can help you feel up to 4 degrees cooler and uses less energy than an HVAC unit. But remember, fans cool people, not rooms. So turn it off when you leave the room.
  • Consider using the microwave instead of the stove or oven to reduce heat in the kitchen and save energy. Or use a grill outside.

John Deem covers climate change and the environment in the Triad and Northwestern North Carolina. Her work is supported by a grant from the 1Earth Fund and the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation.