The region has the generating resources to meet peak demand for power this summer, despite a shift in the way energy is being used during the coronavirus pandemic, officials with New Englandâ€™s regional electric grid operator said.
More power is expected to be used by residential customers in the region, with state residents working from home during the pandemic, according to ISO-New England officials. But that is being more than offset by decreased use by commercial and industrial customers, resulting in a 3 percent to 5 percent decrease in demand compared to a typical summer.
â€śWe expect the pandemic to continue to affect the way consumers use energy throughout the summer, though the exact changes are impossible to predict due to uncertainty regarding social distancing measures and economic activity,â€ť said Vamsi Chadalavada, executive vice president and chief operating officer for Holyoke, Mass.-based ISO-NE, which oversees the regionâ€™s wholesale electric markets.
â€śNew Englandâ€™s power system is able to account for and respond to this uncertainty,â€ť Chadalavada said.
Each year, ISO-NE releases short-term forecasts for both the winter and summer seasons, because peak periods of cold or hot weather drive the demand for electricity.
Demand for electricity under typical summer weather conditions is expected to peak at 25,125 megawatts. An extended heat wave could push demand up to 27,084 megawatts, according to ISO-NE officials.
However, more than 33,000 megawatts of generation capacity is expected to be available to meet New England consumer demand for electricity this summer. The all-time record for peak demand was 28,130 megawatts on Aug. 2, 2006, during a prolonged heat wave.
This summerâ€™s electric demand forecast includes a reduction of more 3,300 megawatts due to increased energy efficiency measures. Thatâ€™s a 400-megawatt reduction from last summer.
ISO-NE also is forecasting a reduction of nearly 800 megawatts during peak demand periods from electricity that is generated by photovoltaic panels. This is referred to by the regional grid operator as â€śbehind-the-meter solar,â€ť which is power generated by photovolatic panels in excess of the needs of the residential, commercial and industrial system owners.
The excess power generated from the panels is then fed back into the overall regional power grid of the local electric distribution network as opposed to directly into the trasmission grid, according to Matthew Kakley, an ISO-NE spokesman.
Kakley said New England hit a solar record on May 2 when the regionâ€™s more than 180,000 solar power installations produced an estimated 3,200 megawatts of power between noon and 1 p.m. that day. ISO-NE officials expect this record to be broken in the months and years ahead.
The increase in solar energy being fed into distribution network reduces the daily peak demand for electricity that ISO-NE controls directly via other types of generation sources.
Joel Gordes, a West Hartford-based energy consultant, said the increase in solar energy coming into changes the time of the peak from the middle of the afternoon to early in the evening.
â€śThe demand for electricity (from the grid) is not going to be as intense.â€ť Gordes said.
Ultimately, he said, the focus of the regional grid operator and officials from around the six-state region should be on bringing storage batteries online.
â€śAs the price of storage goes down, some of the power produced by solar can be diverted into these batteries,â€ť he said. â€śThat will help increase the flexibility of dealing with peak demand periods.â€ť