America’s natural gas and electricity system will be put to the test over the next few days, as an expected succession of winter storms across the country brings heavy snowfall, icing, flooding and strong winds.
The National Weather Service says a massively effective winter storm will continue to affect much of the country this weekend and into the holiday weekend. Winter weather hazards will spread from coast to coast across the central and eastern U.S. from border to border and from the east coast to the Pacific Northwest.
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“Over the next few days, you will see energy demand reach the highest level in our country’s history,” Karen Harbert, CEO of the American Gas Association, told FOX Business. “This is a storm of consequences and not isolated. If you look at the storm … it will affect almost the entire bottom 48.”
Temperatures have already dropped in parts of the country on Thursday, and millions of people are already under some form of winter weather advice.
“About 280 million people in the US on Thursday afternoon are under some form of winter weather warning or advice,” the NWS said. In total, there are approximately 150 million wind chill warnings or advisories, 114 million blizzard warnings, 56 million winter storm warnings and 500,000 ice storm warnings.
Herbert said that while the system will be more stressful than ever before, utilities have been preparing for it all year long.
“Demand will be unprecedented. And they will try to manage this freight demand very carefully,” he added.
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If something happens and the system crashes, utilities work together to bring them back.
“If something happens where you are in the Northeast, public services teams elsewhere in the country are not experiencing this type of disruption, they could be deployed to assist sister public services,” he added.
While both natural gas and electrical systems will be stressed, households that rely on electricity to heat their homes are at greater risk because the electrical grid is above ground and will be exposed to cold, snow and strong winds.
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Meanwhile, the natural gas system is underground and “will be somewhat insulated from some of these consequences … and can continue to provide much-needed heat at these unusually low temperatures,” he said.
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This means that these households can continue to heat their homes and cook for their families even if their electricity goes out. This also means they can boil water if there is a breach in the water system, not just from frozen pipes, but from increased demand, Herbert said.
According to Herbert, during these challenging times, companies “preventively put natural gas in storage to be able to deliver almost 50% more than they normally do on an average day”.
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To help the entire system, homes that rely on natural gas can preemptively lower their thermostats and reduce demand for the entire system so they don’t experience a power outage or blackout, Herbert said.
If you are an all-electric customer and lose power and therefore heat, this has significant consequences.
But if that happens, Herbert said it’s vital that consumers try not to heat their homes with ovens or bring generators into the home. Both of these can be extremely dangerous. Instead, homeowners should turn on their gas fireplaces or light a fire with wood if they have one.
When it’s safe to do so, it’s also important to go to a warming center. Regardless, it’s always important for families to have a plan for whether and when they should leave their home, he said.
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