Extreme temperatures, demand straining electricity system in Massachusetts

BOSTON — It’s been 90 degrees or hotter in Boston a dozen days so far this year, and more scorching weather is in the forecast.

Back to back days of oppressive heat that were once rare are testing our power grid.

The networks of wires and substations that keep the electricity on and air conditioners running are already stressed as housing density increases.

More frequent and intense extreme temperatures are adding to the strain of local networks and our system as a whole.

Some experts believe it’s time to consider upgrading our system’s capacity.

“We’re going to need investments in electricity transmission that are going to help us connect supply and demand,” said Ian Sue Wing, Professor of Earth & Environment at Boston University. “The demand is going up and up and up.”

Professor Wing predicts the type of heatwaves we’re experiencing this summer will become more of the norm in the coming decades.

“By the year 2050, this is going to be pretty common unfortunately,” he explained. “We’re already seeing, in the current climate, a shift from a winter peak of electricity use to a summer peak.”

Eversource and National Grid, which deliver most of the electricity in Massachusetts, are looking at upgrading to transformers that can carry a greater load.

“The power grid is not getting any younger. The grids are there. It’s hard to redesign them from scratch,” said Auroop Ganguly, Professor of Civil & Environmental Engineering at Northeastern University.

According to Eversource, residential customers in Massachusetts use an average 40 percent more energy during the hot summer months.

An Eversource spokesperson said system operators are constantly monitoring the system, and crews are always ready to respond to any potential issues that are caused by weather.

“In addition, our transmission and distribution systems are designed to handle high demand on hot summer days like today, and we’re constantly focused on upgrading and modernizing our system to replace aging facilities and equipment with stronger and more resilient materials – such as steel poles, new transformers and innovative substation designs (both elevated and underground), among other examples,” said a statement from Eversource.

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