Battling Heat Waves by Making the Grid Smarter


On August 14, 2003, the Northeastern and Midwestern United States were hit by the biggest blackout in the nation's history. In total, approximately 55 million people lost power—all because of an overloaded power line in Ohio (it was a hot day) that made contact with some overgrown trees and shut down, creating a domino effect that ultimately shut down 100 power plants across neighboring regions. California faced similarly widespread blackouts in 2000 and 2001, triggered in part by an energy supply shortage.


Flash-forward to July 6, 2010. New York City turned into a veritable pressure cooker as temperatures rose to a record 103 degrees Fahrenheit. But, for the most part, the lights stayed on in spite of the heavy strain on the electrical grid created by millions of air conditioners on full blast. The reason? Utilities across the country are rapidly replacing the old, "dumb" power grid, with smart grids that use two-way digital technology to keep track of power use, help customers monitor electricity costs, and integrate renewable sources into the energy mix. While many utilities are still in the early stages of rolling out smart meters (electrical meters with real-time sensors), the smart grid is already beginning to affect the way utilities handle events like last week's heat wave.

It wasn't easy for New York City's utility Con Edison to prevent brownouts and blackouts as the heat wave mounted. The utility went so far as to call individual customers, pleading with them to turn off nonessential appliances.

But Con Ed had a backup weapon in its fight against blackouts: an initiative that lets the utility reprogram thermostats in 20,000 homes and businesses outfitted with central air-conditioning systems. When the heat wave began, Con Ed sent radio signals to the thermostats, triggering them to cycle on and off every half hour. The initiative saved 25 megawatts of energy during peak demand last week—enough to at least partially prevent the grid from collapsing.

This type of program isn't unique to Con Edison. Depending on where you live, there are several similar programs of which you could take advantage. PG&E's voluntary (and free) Smart AC program, for example, allows the utility to send signals to customers' air-conditioners to use less power than normal on hot days. So far, 120,000 customers have signed up, giving PG&E the flexibility to cut 63 megawatts of power use from the grid when necessary.

As utilities roll out smart meters, demand-response programs will become even more common. Just last week, energy management startup EcoFactor partnered with Texas utility Oncor in a bid to shave three megawatts of power off the utility's load during times of peak electricity usage. EcoFactor manufactures software that turns thermostats into two-way programmable devices that can be controlled by an internet connection. The startup's software also keeps track of customer temperature preferences, adjusting thermostats based on past use, seasonal changes, and real-time weather conditions. EcoFactor's commercial deployment is limited to Texas for now, but rest assured that similar programs will pop up in other regions as utilities search for new ways to micro-manage the grid.

All of the smart energy solutions mentioned thus far don't require smart meters. But the lucky few who already have the new meters installed have access to an array of energy-saving solutions. Smart meter-equipped customers of select utilities in the United States and Europe have automatic access to Google's PowerMeter software, which helps users track energy use over time and predict annual energy bills. And select Duke Energy customers in North Carolina and Ohio will have access later this summer to Cisco's sleek Home Energy Controller, a virtual command center for home energy management that allows users to automate energy consumption based on the time of day, participate in utility pricing incentive programs, and monitor energy use of all networked devices in the home. As these test cases see results, smart meters should be more widely available. Keep your ears open.


Articles
Creative Commons

National Tell a Joke Day dates back to 1944 when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was having a meeting with Vice-President, Henry Wallace. The two men were tired and depressed due to the stress caused by leading a country through world war.

During a lull in the meeting, Wallace said, "Frank, to cheer you up I have a joke I'd like to share."

"Let's have it, Henry," Roosevelt replied while ashing his cigarette.

"Why did the chicken cross the road?" Wallace asked. "Not sure," Roosevelt replied.

"To get to the other side," Wallace responded.

Roosevelt laughed so hard that the bourbon he was drinking sprayed out of his nose and onto the floor of the oval office.

RELATED: A comedian shuts down a sexist heckler who, ironically, brought his daughters to the show

The joke was so funny, and did such a great job at lightening both their moods, Roosevelt proclaimed that every year, August 16 would be National Tell a Joke Day.

Just kidding.

Nobody knows why National Tell a Joke Day started, but in a world where the President of the United States is trying to buy Greenland, "Beverly Hills, 90210" is back on TV, and the economy is about to go off a cliff, we could all use a bit of levity.

To celebrate National Tell a Joke Day, the people on Twitter responded with hundreds of the corniest dad jokes ever told. Here are some of the best.

Culture

The Judean date palm was once common in ancient Judea. The tree itself was a source of shelter, its fruit was ubiquitous in food, and its likeness was even engraved on money. But the plant became extinct around 500 A.D., and the prevalent palm was no more. But the plant is getting a second chance at life in the new millennium after researchers were able to resurrect ancient seeds.

Two thousand-year-old seeds were discovered inside a pottery jar during an archaeological excavation of Masada, a historic mountain fortress in southern Israel. It is believed the seeds were produced between 155 B.C. and 64 A.D. Those seeds sat inside a researcher's drawer in Tel Aviv for years, not doing anything.

Elaine Solowey, the Director of the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in Israel, wondered if she could revive the Judean Date Palm, so in 2005, she began to experiment. "I assumed the food in the seed would be no good after all that time. How could it be?" Solewey said.

Keep Reading Show less
Science

There's been an uptick in fake emotional support animals (ESAs), which has led some airlines to crack down on which animals can and can't fly. Remember that emotional support peacock?

But some restrictions on ESAs don't fly with the Department of Transportation (DOT), leading them to crack down on the crack down.

Delta says that there has been an 84 percent increase in animal incidents since 2016, thanks in part to the increase of ESAs on airplanes. Last year, Delta airlines banned pit bulls and pit bull-related dog breeds after two airline staff were bitten by the breed while boarding a flight from Atlanta to Tokyo.

"We must err on the side of safety. Most recently, two Delta employees were bit by a pit bull traveling as a support animal last week. We struggled with the decision to expand the ban to service animals, knowing that some customers have legitimate needs, but we have determined that untrained, pit bull-type dogs posing as both service and support animals are a potential safety risk," Delta told People regarding the new rule.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Liam Beach / Facebook

Trying to get one dog to sit still and make eye contact with a camera for more than half a second is a low-key miracle. Lining up 16 dogs, on steps, and having them all stare at the camera simultaneously is the work of a God-like dog whisperer.

This miracle worker is Liam Beach, a 19-year-old animal management graduate from Cardiff, Wales. A friend of his dared him to attempt the shot and he accepted the challenge.

"My friend Catherine challenged me to try to get all of my lot sat on the stairs for a photo. She said, 'I bet you can't pull it off,' so I thought 'challenge accepted,'" he said, accoriding to Paws Planet.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

Americans on both sides of the political aisle can agree on one thing: our infrastructure needs a huge upgrade. While politicians drag their feet on high-speed rail projects, fixing bridges, and building new airports, one amazing project is picking up steam.

The Great American Rail-Trail, a bike path that will connect Washington state to Washington, D.C., is over 50% complete.

The trail is being planned by the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, a nonprofit that is working with local governments to make the dream a reality.

Keep Reading Show less
Travel