Electricity use to hit highest in years this week

The heatwave has caused a spike in demand for electricity to run air conditioning units, which are working overtime — and so are repair workers.

Demand for additional power is to run A/C units, which are breaking down

Air conditioners have been working overtime to help provide relief in the otherwise stifling heat. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Demand for electricity is expected to reach its highest levels in years this week, as a heat wave continues to grip eastern and southern Ontario.

Temperatures have continued to soar across much of the province over the past few days, including in Ottawa where Sunday the city experienced its highest-ever recorded humidex level of 47.2.

"We're going to see the demand for electricity continue to climb over the next few days," said Terry Young, a vice-president with Ontario's Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO), who said the demand tends to increase as a heat wave continues.

"We're looking at a peak over 22,000 megawatts ... the highest we've seen in several years."

That peak is expected to hit sometime between 12 and 5 p.m. on Wednesday.

We're having a crazy weekend ... This heatwave has hit Ottawa really hard.- Ray Richer, president of  CoolHeat Comfort

However, it won't come close to the demand the province saw more than a decade ago, when it hit 27,000 megawatt hours (MWh).  Young attributes the drop to energy conservation measures put in place in the province in the past decade.

Demand for electricity is usually higher during the week when offices reopen, although there is often a dip in demand among residential customers during July as many people go on vacation.

A/C working overtime

Ray Richer says his business has had a number of calls over the weekend because people are relying heavily on their air conditioners but often aren't maintaining them properly. (Olivia Chandler/CBC)

All this additional demand for electricity during the summer months mostly comes from cranking up the air conditioning, which accounts for about 40 per cent of a household's power use during the summer, said Young.

During the heat wave, air conditioners are working overtime  — and so are repair workers, who are putting in extra hours to answer emergency calls.

"We're having a crazy weekend," said Ray Richer, president of CoolHeat Comfort. "We're doing so many service calls its absolutely incredible. This heatwave has hit Ottawa really hard," 

Richer said he has received nearly around 100 calls over the long weekend, the vast majority of them relating to units not cooling properly.

"With this heatwave it really makes the equipment work extra hard. And if the equipment isn't very well-maintained and cleaned, it's not going to give the proper cooling that everyone needs in this type of weather."

Maintenance is key

Ensuring the outside condenser unit is clear of any obstruction, and the grills on the side are clean, is usually all it takes to keep it running properly, according to Richer. Make sure that there are no branches or shrubs for a number of feet around the air-conditioning unit to allow the warm air to be released.

"It's all about airflow," he said.

If the area is clear and the unit looks clean but still isn't cooling properly, then it may just need a reset, Richer said.

"Sometimes they will go off, and they will lockout. Just resetting the A/C will work for most customers."

If you're not sure how to reset, Richer said a repair person can easily walk you through it over the phone.

With files from Kimberley Molina and Darren Major