This year’s winter seems to be more potent than most with the newly termed “polar vortex” and the constant buzz about power outages. Yet, growing up in Buffalo, NY I’m no stranger to below freezing temperatures and neither is most of the population from the Midwest to the Northeast. Sure the last few winters have been milder than usual (climate change anyone?), but why is this year getting so much hype?

One of the biggest reasons why power strains have come into the forefront is because the population has significantly increased over the past few decades. The more people born, the more energy consumers we have. The standard of living is also much different than that of 40 years ago with people living in bigger houses and using more electricity per house, which puts more demand on the grid.

How much energy are we actually using during a cold streak? According to a Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) press release, “When it’s below 20°F, each time the temperature drops one degree another 400 MW of electricity is needed. That’s almost as much as one of our larger hydroelectric dams.” In other words, when the temperature reaches single digits we need the additional supply of nearly 15 big power plants.

Fortunately, steps have been put in place to prevent power outages during these critical times. As we previously reported, demand response has played a large part in keeping the power on, by having those enrolled reduce their electrical use during peak times. Many people have also reduced in their own homes by leaving the thermostat down a couple degrees and waiting to use washers, dryers and other high powered machines until off peak hours.

It’s clear more freezing days are to come, but the more we understand why there is such a strain on our power grid, the more we can do to prevent outages. Already this year, many power failures have been avoided and people are becoming more aware of ways they can help. So while this winter seems to be a standout compared to the last few, let’s not give it unwarranted attention. We know how to make this winter go by in a breeze.

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