As most Philadelphians noticed, the weather the past few months was a bit outside the norm. This winter brought nearly 68 inches of snow to Philadelphia, cementing its place in history as the second snowiest on record. It also had the highest heating degrees days (a measurement designed to reflect the demand for energy needed to heat a building) in the past decade. Now that we’ve had our last cold streak for the season (at least we hope), we thought it would be worthwhile to take a look back at a few of the major winter weather events. Sustainability and resiliency are intrinsically related and here at MOS, we were left thinking how the initiatives Philadelphia is pursuing as part of Greenworks can help to lessen the impact of extreme winter weather.
The Polar Vortex
During the peak of the polar vortex in early January, the regional electricity grid was experiencing one of its most challenging times, as heating demands stressed the regional electricity grid. The local grid operators, PJM, recorded their all-time winter peak use at 141,312 MW on the evening of January 7th. During that time energy prices were 6 times the monthly average for natural gas and 3 times the monthly average for electricity. Individuals and organizations that purchase directly from Pennsylvania’s real-time energy markets saw a sharp increase in energy costs. For the City of Philadelphia, long-term energy management purchasing strategies and energy efficiency investments helped the City avoid the largest increases in its monthly utility bills.
The Ice Storm
In February, a cold streak of ice and snow followed by heavy winds resulted in record-breaking electricity outages throughout the region. The events left millions without power, caused the closing of schools and workplaces, and severely disrupted day to day life. One of the best defenses against storms is smart grid technology, which allows utilities to find outage areas and deploy remote or on-site solutions to restore service quickly. Over the past several years PECO has been deploying its advanced meter infrastructure throughout Philadelphia, with plans to complete smart meter installation for residential customers by the end of 2014. While smart grid technology will never replace the service crews that pull a tree limb off of downed lines, they will enhance resilience in our electricity grid.
There’s no forecast for what type of weather future winters in Philadelphia will bring. However, investments in energy efficiency, infrastructure and strong energy management practices will help all Philadelphians better manage winter events. We’re still crunching the numbers to see just how the winter affected the City’s energy bills, but we’re confident that the investments we’re making today will help reduce our cost burden—and our environmental impact—in the years to come.