US utilities under pressure from rising temperatures

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Temperatures are reaching record highs in the Pacific Northwest, with the US National Weather Service issuing warnings of dangerously hot conditions and heat index values up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit.

News reports state that Portland, Oregon, reached 115 degrees Fahrenheit on Monday 28 June 2021, the third day in a row with heat above 107 degrees, causing thousands to be left without power due to strain on the grid.

More than 6,300 Portland General Electric customers were hit with power outages and Puget Sound Energy reported 3,400 customers down in the greater Seattle areas. Andrea Platt, a representative for PGE said: “We were ready for this, and had crews on hand to respond to the outages. There’s no good time to be without power, but especially when there’s record heat.”

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The situation focuses the spotlight on grid resilience in times of extreme weather and how prepared utilities are to ensure power supply when demand peaks. Earlier this year, the infamous ‘Texas storm‘ wreaked havoc on the grid. Freezing winter weather caused power shortages in Texas and left millions of people in the dark and without heat on the coldest days in decades. The fact is that extreme weather incidents appear to be becoming more prevalent and preparedness can’t be over-emphasised.

“Unfortunately we’re not well-prepared, generally speaking in the Pacific Northwest, for heat,” Vivek Shandas, a professor of climate adaptation and urban policy at Portland State University, told CNN. “Our [power] grids are largely taxed during the wintertime for heating purposes, but in the summer, there’s a lot less capacity in the grid to be able to actually manage some of the major drains on cooling infrastructure that’s needed.”

Keep up to date with the latest weather alerts on the National Weather Service website.