Ah, summer temperatures in the 80s. Feels good, doesn't it? Certainly a whole lot better than the eight-day heat wave we all just survived, with temperatures in the 90s and the heat index above 100 degrees on several of those days.

But the recent heat wave wasn't as bad as it could have been.

Why? For the most part, the power did not go out. The electrical grid was able to withstand the extra load. There were relatively few outages statewide, and as NJSpotlight.com pointed out in a July 23 article on the grid's new-found resiliency, there were "fewer frantic calls on customers to conserve energy to avoid potential brownouts."

This was a particularly tough heat wave for the grid to handle. Not only was it intense - it was also unusually long-lasting. Typically, experts told NJSpotlight, power problems start to multiply after three days of heat in the 90s.

The experts pointed to a number of factors for the lack of outages or brownouts.

First, energy providers have focused on improving reliability recently. That means new investments in the distribution system - investments that power companies should have made long ago. Last summer's derecho and Hurricane Sandy - and widespread complaints about prolonged outages - have gotten the power companies' attention.

NJSpotlight also noted that increased demand response - getting big users of electricity to cut back their usage during peak periods - helped keep the grid up and running during the recent heat wave.

But the most interesting factor noted by the experts was the boost in the power supply provided by "distributed generation" - the industry's term for locally produced power, such as that produced by solar cells or wind turbines.

New Jersey's development of alternative-energy sources has been criticized by some for taking too long. But the 1,100 megawatts of solar energy now being produced in the state played a significant role in taking some of the pressure off the main power grid.

That's a significant development. Solar power is growing up. It is no longer just a small-scale thing helping consumers save some money and allowing them to feel good about their environmental sensitivity. Solar power is actually providing enough electricity to help keep the power grid functioning during times of extreme demand.

The state is also now providing funds to promote the development of strategies to store energy produced by the sun and the wind.

So consider all this good news. Because the bad news about this recent heat wave will be arriving soon enough - in your electricity bills.

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