Why peak electricity usage matters
With hot and humid conditions enveloping New England, demand for electricity across the region hit its highest level so far this year at about 6:30 p.m. Monday.
This year’s peak experience in many ways highlights how the regional power grid is changing and how far it has to go to fully decarbonize.
ISO New England, the organization that oversees the regional power grid, had forecast this summer’s peak usage would hit 25,500 megawatts between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m. Actual usage came in at 24,736 megawatts, more than 300 megawatts higher than last year’s peak but nearly 1,600 megawatts lower than 2018.
The all-time peak usage in the region was 28,130 megawatts on August 2, 2006. Peak usage has been stagnant or dropping in recent years, primarily due to energy efficiency efforts that have helped curb overall electricity demand by 3,300 megawatts and small-scale solar and wind installations that reduce demand for power from the grid.
Peaks have out-sized importance because the region needs enough power plants to meet demand when demand is at its highest point. Lowering the peak is beneficial since it means the region can get by with fewer power plants.
Peaks used to occur in the afternoon, when temperatures hit their highest levels and air conditioners are going full tilt. But the deployment of solar panels on roofs across the region has pushed the peak into the early evening. During the afternoon, the behind-the-meter solar installations produce the most power. As the sun begins to set, however, solar power production falls off and the region becomes more and more dependent on large-scale power generators.
There is lots of talk on Beacon Hill about going 100 percent renewable, but Monday’s peak experience illustrates how far the region has to go. The regional power grid handled Monday’s surge in electricity demand easily, but in doing so it relied primarily on power generated by natural gas (70 percent), nuclear (16 percent), hydro (8 percent), renewables (5 percent), and even a bit of oil and coal. The oil and coal plants tend to come online only when demand is at its highest.
Most energy analysts want to decarbonize the economy using electricity. Cars and trucks, for example, would shift from gasoline to electricity. Electricity would also be used for heat and hot water in homes and commercial buildings. Brookline took a step in this direction recently by approving a bylaw banning pipes carrying natural gas and oil in all new construction. Attorney General Maura Healey, while sympathetic to the bylaw’s intent, rejected the measure because it conflicted with three state laws.
If the region’s power grid doesn’t go green, the shift to electricity won’t pay many environmental dividends. That’s why the state is pursuing the purchase of offshore wind and hydro-electricity from Canada, to help reduce reliance on natural gas and other fossil fuels.
As of Tuesday morning, however, the power grid was relying most on natural gas. According to ISO New England’s real-time information, the grid’s power was coming primarily from natural gas (74 percent), with the balance from nuclear (19 percent), renewables (5 percent), and hydroelectricity (2 percent).
The pandemic, and the vote-by-mail effort it launched, are scrambling the campaign playbook this year. What’s the best way to get out the vote?
Suspended Newton District Court Judge Shelley Joseph loses her bid to toss out obstruction of justice charges against her. It looks like the case is going to trial.
The racial reckoning that is happening across Massachusetts may have a surprising casualty — Gov. Charlie Baker’s housing legislation.
COVID-19 cases — along with nervousness about a second surge — start to rise in Massachusetts.
Six lawmakers, including two from the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, are given the task of working out differences between the House and Senate bills dealing with police reform.
Opinion: Juana Matias of MassINC says housing legislation being pushed by Gov. Charlie Baker offers the chance to address racial inequity at its roots….Rachel Heller, the CEO of the Citizens’ Housing and Planning Association, describes zoning as a major artery of systemic racism.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Colin Doyle, a lecturer at Harvard Law School, explains the ins and outs of qualified immunity. (WBUR)
An attempt to allow undocumented immigrants to acquire driver’s licenses appears to have fizzled without a vote in the Massachusetts House. (State House News Service)
Baystate Medical Center reports a COVID-19 outbreak affecting 23 staff and 13 patients, tied to a staff member who traveled to another state and to employees gathering in break rooms without masks. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Visits are halted at the Holyoke Soldiers’ Home after a resident who had recovered from COVID-19 experiences symptoms again. (WCVB)
Cape Cod officials have seen positive cases start to rise on Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard as hordes of people travel to the islands. (Cape Cod Times)
Republicans roll out a new pandemic relief bill, but the reception is chilly from Democrats. (NPR)
Attorney General Maura Healey joins a lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s order that undocumented immigrants not be counted for purposes of reapportioning congressional seats. (Gloucester Daily Times)
The US House approves an amendment protecting the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe’s reservation in Massachusetts. (Associated Press)
The Boston Globe editorial board endorses US Sen. Ed Markey for reelection.
Markey spends less time in Massachusetts than any other member of the state’s congressional delegation. (Boston Globe)
Bay State Cruise Company is ordered to stop operating for violating COVID-19-related regulations after a photo of a crowded top deck of a cruise ship in Boston Harbor drew scrutiny to the company’s operations. (MassLive) Boston 25 has more from the manager of the company.
Target is joining Walmart in closing its stores on Thanksgiving Day, ending a decade-long tradition of jump-starting Black Friday door buster sales. (Associated Press)
School districts will be allowed to delay their return to school by 10 days, until Sept. 16, to give teachers more time to prepare for this year. (Boston Globe)
The Boston Business Journal looks at the fall reopening plans for the 25 largest colleges in Massachusetts. UMass Amherst says students won’t be required to submit SAT or ACT test results with applications for the next three years. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)
Families with children who attended St. Jerome School in Weymouth will not continue to fight to keep the school open after Cardinal Sean O’Malley denied their appeal of the closure. (Patriot Ledger)
The Robert Gould Shaw Memorial, commemorating the Black soldiers who fought in the Civil War, is the latest racial-related monument attracting scrutiny. (Associated Press)
There have been 32 homicides so far this year in Boston, compared to 23 at this time last year, with some attributing the uptick to coronavirus-related upheaval. (Boston Globe)PASSINGS
Roxbury resident Mimi Jones, who was active in the civil rights movement as a teenager in the 1960s, dies at 73. (Boston Globe)