As a child I never heard of a Polar Vortex, so when I recently installed a solar electric system for a meteorologist, I asked him if Polar Vortexes are new. He told me that "Though they are not a new phenomenon, there frequency in pattern is."So what's causing all the commotion? Many speculate climate change is driving these events. "Scientists have observed that more and more Arctic Sea ice is melting during the summer months. As the ice melts, the Arctic Ocean warms, and radiates that excess heat back to the atmosphere in winter. Because that heat somewhat reduces the contrast between the Arctic air and the atmosphere in regions farther south, it reduces the intensity of the winds that form the barrier between the two areas. That, in turn, weakens and disrupts the polar vortex. That hypothesis is supported by data taken over the past decade, which shows that in years when a lot of Arctic sea ice disappears, the vortex has a greater tendency to weaken." [source: Fischetti]
When these vortexes or vortices occur it stresses out our aging electric grid. With more and more coal power plants switching to natural gas, power companies and homeowners are fighting for natural gas causing a supply and demand issue. During this past winter, prices of electricity have gone up by as much as 1000% during the coldest periods of the polar vortex. In MA, PA, CT & NY most consumers are not "Time of use" customers, meaning that the utility company is not passing this fee onto them immediately. They pass it on throughout the year, leveling out the costs. As you can see in the chart above wholesale rates of electricity went from about $50/ MWh or $0.05/ kWh up to just over $500/ MWh or $50/ kWh. Wholesale price volatility can be dangerous for suppliers. If you, a consumer, had to pay $50/ kWh for an entire month, what would your electric bill be? About $40,000. Imagine waking up to that electric bill. Of course that spike only last a couple of days but still, that equates to Millions and Millions of dollars that the utility companies were not expecting to pay. In fact, last winter's Polar Vortexes put several third party power suppliers out of business, like Clean Currents & Dominion Resources.This has led the electric companies to file with their state Public Utility Commissions (PUC) to increase rates for this winter to protect themselves from this expected repeat event. 37% for National grid, 27% for NStar, etc.
We don't know if this winter will be harsh or mild on our skin but it's guaranteed to be harsh on our electric bills! So what's the correlation between solar panels and Polar Vortexes? None, directly, but indirectly you can eliminate your electric bill using a grid tied solar system. When the news comes out that there's a 27% - 37% rate increase you can smile knowing that it won't affect your pocket.