Record Heat Fails to Produce Record Power Demands and Blackouts: Credit the Department of Energy's Efficiency Standards

As the major cities of the East Coast joined in on the suffering from the heat wave that has lingered over the central parts of the country, and both Washington DC and New York set heat and humidity records, here is one thing that didn’t happen. The lights didn’t go off.

New York reported a peak power demand that was only trivially higher than it was four years ago, and stories of blackout elsewhere are isolated and uncommon. Why is this?

In large part, it is due to the success of efficiency standards for air conditioners. Air conditioners are responsible for peak loads occurring on hot summer afternoons: previously they occurred in the winter. The Department of Energy’s recent (2006) standard for new central air conditioners is already saving over 1000 Megawatts of power compared to the previous standard: that compares to Consolidated Edison’s record peak of 12,000 MW. If we add in all of the other savings from air conditioner standards dating back to the 1980s the result is over 6000 MW. The savings will grow even larger when new standards, based on an agreement between efficiency advocates such as NRDC and manufacturers, go into effect.

Other appliance efficiency standards also reduced peak power demands, and taken together the savings exceed 60,000 MW.

Con Ed’s experience is typical of this success: despite growth in population and the amount of space air conditioned, peak loads haven’t grown much, and utility systems by and large have been able to keep up.

The benefits from reducing blackouts extend to everyone: they protect sensitive populations from heat-related illness, they cut costs for low income consumers, they protect business from loss of power and from higher electric bills.

Helping prevent blackouts: that’s an impressive achievement for efficiency regulations!

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