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Heat wave puts pressure on power grid

Alisa Roth Jul 6, 2010

Heat wave puts pressure on power grid

Alisa Roth Jul 6, 2010


Bill Radke: There have been scattered power outages along the East Coast today — parts of New York, D.C., Philadelphia. Utilities there are trying to manage record demand for power, amid record high temperatures — triple digits from the Hudson to the Potomac. It’s been almost seven years since the last big blackout on the East Coast. And we’ve had plenty of talk about upgrades.

Marketplace’s Alisa Roth wanted to know — how prepared are we?

Alisa Roth: Before I left home this morning, I turned off the air conditioners and pulled down the shades. Electric companies up and down the East Coast have been reminding customers to do that, so we don’t knock the system out of commission.

Jim Owen is a spokesman for the Edison Electric Institute, which is a trade association for investor-owned power companies. He says there have been a lot of improvements since the big blackout seven years ago.

Jim Owen: Basically, what we’re talking about is just a steadily increasing investment in distribution and transmission facilities.

New York’s power company, Con Edison, says it’s spent more than $10 billion on these kinds of upgrades since 2003.

Owen: It’s just going to make your system stronger and it’s going to make it more resilient. It’s going to give you increased capability to move power to where it’s needed most on days like today.

But your electric company might not know where to move that power. Right now, the only way it knows the power is out when somebody calls them.

Marijia Ilich studies power grids at Carnegie Mellon University. She says there’s a lot of talk about upgrading equipment. But what we really need to do is upgrade other things, like computer programs and communications that make it all work.

Marijia Ilich: Much can be improved in terms of doing things during abnormal conditions by relying on real time data and software, which would manage that data.

That would help power companies figure out what kinds of adjustments to make to keep the juice flowing and the air conditioners running, which is what we all want on days like today.

In New York, I’m Alisa Roth for Marketplace.

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