New York's Power Grid Is a Wonderful and Fragile Thing

All these machines whirring around us have magical hearts pumping electricity through them, thanks to the will of God. If only this were so. As things stand in reality, electricity comes from generators and power plants where little men in pointy hats...

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Jul 3 2012, 4:00pm

All these machines whirring around us have magical hearts pumping electricity through them, thanks to the will of God. If only this were so. As things stand in reality, electricity comes from generators and power plants where little men in pointy hats coax dragons into emitting steady flames which heat cauldrons which give off steam which turns things which then shoot electricity into our homes and places of employment. Or at least something like that.

At precisely 4:54 pm on Friday, the 29th of May, 2012, New York state was using 27,685 megawatts of electrical power. The 27 inch iMac on which this article is being composed uses 141 watts when the screen is at maximum brightness. (As our eyes take on mole-like traits after years of lurking in dark rooms, maximum brightness will be less desirable.) At 10:55 am that very same day, spot prices for power in New York rose to $1,647.56 per megawatt -hour. At that rate, this iMac would have been running up the power bill a whopping twenty five cents per hour. One wonders if people would spend so much time browsing the web if they had to drop a quarter in a slot every hour.

Ravenswood – Gas Fired Power Plant – Long Island City

Fortunately, that Friday morning spot rate was much much higher than normal prices. Buying power at the spot rate is kind of like ordering on-demand movies at a hotel. Power retailers only buy at that rate when demand soars and they run into shortages. The average cost of power for Saturday June 30 bought one day ahead of time was only $57.34. At that rate, the same iMac costs only tenths of a penny per hour. That means one should be able to web out all day at full brightness for under a quarter, which sounds like a pretty good deal.

Robert Moses Hydroelectric Power Station – Niagara

So what made the spot rates shoot up so high? Air conditioners. It’s hot out. Historically, average highs for June 29th in New York have been around 75 to 80 degrees. We’re currently seeing temperatures 10 to 15 degrees above average. Heat is a national trend on the year-to-date, and with the power grid enmeshed across North America, increased national demand for air conditioning is going to ratchet up power rates everywhere.

According to one source, “A room air conditioner adds about 1 kWh per hour to your energy usage. If it is left running for 24 hours a day, it will total about 24 kWh.” Whereas my iMac was blazing info to my brain for an affordable quarter a day, which I should easily be able to scrounge up, my AC is cooling me at closer to two bucks a day. All told, I can bask in artificial cold and surf the web all day for about how much it costs to ride the subway. Throw in my cups of water and showers and toilet flushing for an extra 50 cents, and you’re looking at a comfortable human.

Indian Point Nuclear Plant

Could there be trouble in paradise? For less than three dollars a day, all else being equal, anyone can stay cool and clean in New York City and compute non-stop. What about those pesky dragons? They’re out there somewhere, behind the walls of the industrial complex, spewing out their tongues of flame to make electricity. They get hungry. In New York, our dragons by and large eat natural gas, nuclear energy, or hydroelectric energy. According to the EIA, New York State generates 10,686 megawatts of electricity. That’s close to 11 million air conditioners running full blast around the clock. Recall that this past Friday, power consumption was closing in on 30,000 megawatts, which means New York is importing the majority of its power from out of state producers. If we can’t feed the dragons, the AC’s stop cranking out the cool.

Currently, the New York dragons seem content. In other parts of the eastern U.S, however, dragons have become irritated. Even as Nature turns up the heat on the world, the dragons enslaved for the comfort of humanity take umbrage, and power has gone out in places like Virginia, Maryland, and Ohio. The putrid corpse-bodies of web zombies in these locales have been driven into the blazing sun and deprived of crucial web-knowledge, which feeds their putrid brains. Should we be unable to procure the foods for our own dragons to continue churning out electricity, we can expect a similar doom.

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