After a rather incident free start to the semester, campus life was shaken mid-week by an afternoon power deficiency. In a university wide statement from Virginia Tech Facility Services, the Hokie community was asked to “…turn off all non-essential lighting and electrical usage by 2 p.m. today.” A request that resulted in the loss of air conditioning for the majority of campus.
An interesting aspect of the request was the reason given for what led to the declared a ‘Load Reduction Emergency.’ From that same email, the lack in power was due to “..current weather conditions and higher than normal temperatures.” The high yesterday only reached 84 degrees. Compared to normal summer temperatures around the area, 84 degrees is not terrible, though it is roughly seven degrees above normal for this date. Humidity levels also ran high for the majority of the afternoon, which only adds stress to the power grid.
Earlier this year, the Northeast battled a week-long heat wave that stressed many power grids. New York City ran a week straight with temperatures in the 90’s, topping out around 98 degrees during the week. When factoring in humidity levels, the temperature felt near 100 degrees or more for the majority of the period. Over 1700 homes lost power due to rolling blackouts, and power crews were on duty with anticipation of more.
So the question becomes, does a September day with highs in the mid-80’s really stress our power grid enough to trigger the threat of rolling blackouts? After reaching out to Virginia Tech Electric and Facility Services, we learned that Tech voluntarily participates in a program that works with the operator of our regions power grids. In events where power generation may fall short of demand, the university will attempt to reduce electricity usage. Tech is not directly informed of the reason for the electrical deficiency, and in many cases, the situation that resulted in the power shortage is not local.
Tech’s maximum demand on the VT Electric System occurs during the late summer months as students return to school. In situations like the one that occured on Wednesday, with the heat index approaching 90 degrees for a few hours, the electric system throughout the area received an unexpected heavy load that it could not meet. It is at this point that the grid operator informed volunteer organizations such as Virginia Tech to attempt to conserve energy usage.
According to John Beach, representative for Virginia Tech Facilities Services, the university immediately took into account the impact of expected weather conditions when making the operational decision to reduce power by shutting off air conditioning.
Everything seems back to normal now. Only memories of a few smoldering classrooms and uncomfortable lectures as students leave a period of hot and humid weather into a drier and cooler weekend.