U.Va. Cuts Power Demand in Heat Wave Response

September 13, 2013

The University of Virginia reduced its draw on the electrical grid by 12 megawatts on Wednesday in response to an emergency in the regional electrical grid.

The reduction was achieved by a combination of conservation and shifting some of the University’s power production onto generators. The University has had annual power-reduction drills in the summer; during a well-publicized drill in June, the University reduced electric use by 15 megawatts.

“This is something for which we have been training and now the training is being put to use,” said Nina Morris, sustainability coordinator for Facilities Management.

PJM Interconnect, the electricity grid operator for 13 states and the District of Columbia, blamed the need for electricity on “unseasonably hot weather.” It set a new record for September peak electricity use, meeting the demand for 144,370 megawatts.

“Tuesday’s unusual, extreme heat combined with local equipment problems to create emergency conditions in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania,” the company said in a prepared statement released Wednesday. “PJM was forced to direct local utilities in those areas to immediately and temporarily cut electricity to some customers to avoid the possibility of an uncontrolled blackout over a larger area that would have affected many more people.”

Morris got the word out to faculty, staff and students through the University website, mass emails and social media.

Much of the reduction was realized by using emergency generators. Jesse Warren, an energy engineer for Facilities Management, said most of the buildings on Grounds and at the Medical Center were running partially on the grid and partially on a generator.

“There was never any disruption of power in the buildings,” Warren said, adding that patient care and research were not affected.

Among the buildings using a generator were Clark, Wilsdorf and Jordan halls, as well as the main heat plant, the Biomedical Engineering and Medical Science building, and the Carter-Harrison Research Building.

While the University was able to reduce its electric draw, it faced additional challenges, because school is back in session and students are in residence.

“We lost some of the flexibility to shut things off,” including some HVAC equipment in occupied buildings, Warren said.

Morris said the students were diligent in reducing their electric draw, turning off lights in residence halls, raising their thermostats a few degrees, running their laptops on battery power and postponing doing their laundry until after the emergency period.

“We asked them to avoid doing anything that involves electricity,” Morris said. “It’s easier to do this over the summer time, and having students here makes it more challenging. The more people, the more electricity is needed and the harder it is to find things to turn off because they are needed.”

Media Contact

Matt Kelly

University News Associate Office of University Communications