How the heat has been stressing the DC power grid — and line workers

How the heat has been stressing the DC power grid — and line workers

The hot weather that’s been hitting the D.C. region lately has been stressing both the power grid and the utility employees who have to fix electrical problems when they occur.

As temperatures have soared, the demand for electricity has spiked, largely due to the increased use of air conditioning.

“Normally, we do expect hot weather into the 90s to be plaguing our system in July, so to have it come toward the end of June is a little bit sooner,” said Tammy Sanford, director of regional electric operations for Pepco, which provides energy to customers in D.C. and Maryland.

A surge in demand has the potential strain the power grid, pushing it to operate at or beyond its capacity.

Overloaded grids are more susceptible to outages, as the increased electrical load can cause equipment to overheat.

“We do see our system carrying more load and carrying more power than it normally carries,” Sanford said. “Of course that can cause stress on our system.”

For utility employees, hot weather brings its own set of challenges.

Workers who maintain and repair the power grid are often required to be outdoors for long periods of time.

Dana Thomas is a line worker with Pepco, which means when the power goes out, he heads to the scene.

“It does make it a little tough wearing rubber gloves and sleeves,” Thomas said. “It’s almost like you’re insulated.”

Thomas said Pepco provides line workers with electrolyte packets and other things to help keep them hydrated.

According to Sanford, crews who respond to power outages in the heat have additional workers on board so they can cycle on and off more frequently and take breaks to cool down.

“Certainly, when it’s hot, the demand on the system is high,” Sanford said. “That’s why it’s important for us to have our guys out in the field, so that we don’t get taken by surprise and we can’t respond quickly.”

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Nick Iannelli

Nick Iannelli can be heard covering developing and breaking news stories on WTOP.

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