Life is More Than Peak Experience, There is Daily Opportunity!

Guest Blog | February 12, 2010 | Climate Change, Energy Efficiency, Energy Policy, Utilities

How do we get people to lower their electricity consumption overall, not just at peak?  A recent conference in Florida showed the high-tech perspective of some energy industry folks and continuing utility focus on cutting demand at peak.  Of the six speakers who discussed matters bearing on Florida’s electric grid, only three really recognized the importance of addressing how much electricity people use over the course of the year.

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Florida Reliability Coordinating Council president & CEO Sarah Rogers reported that during the recent cold snap, on 11-Jan-2010, peak power usage was 53,600 megawatts, a Florida state record (and about the “firm peak demand” forecast in 2009 for summer 2017).  She also highlighted development of dispatchable (controlled by utilities) demand-side management of load in Florida (compared to other regions of the country).

From the utility perspective, Bentina Terry, a Gulf Power Vice President, reviewed the benefits of Gulf’s Energy Select residential service variable pricing program, which notably offers consumers lower rates 87 percent of the time.  It’s a system that provides participants with home- or business-owner controls to limit power usage across four types of pricing periods, principally for helping the utility limit high demand at peak periods:  it’s mainly HVAC control, with a few other options—water heater, pool pump or other devices.

The tools are available for enhancing energy conservation — and carbon controls are coming.

Ray Gogel, president & COO of Current Group, noted in his talk on Smart Grid Implementation Strategies, however, that peak deals with typically only 40-to-80 hours per year, out of the annual total 8760 hours.  Technologies are now available to help consumers better manage their power usage (over time as well as at peak demand periods) and for utilities to manage the community’s distributed power and conservation resources (it’s a combination of information technology, communications, automation, capable meters, web visibility and device controls—best applied at the “edges,” where providers and consumers interact).

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Hethie Parmesano, a utility economics consultant, reviewed the prospect of carbon cap-and-trade (or carbon tax) impacts on electricity rate design.  She noted that with likely “higher costs in all hours,” we need to encourage overall load reductions (expand energy efficiency, not just peak demand reductions).

How do we get people to lower their electricity consumption overall, not just at peak?

Valerie Lemmie, an Ohio Public Utilities Commissioner, outlined prospects to meet economic, environmental, energy and social policy goals:  Engage the consumer in control of their power use in an energy services utility business model (not just expecting power when they flip the switch), in addition to utility management of peak demand.  It’s integration of dynamic pricing, smart meters, home energy programs with consumer education.  Gogel of Current suggested more sophisticated marketing is needed, segmentation to get the various types of power users to respond.  In discussion, we were reminded that utilities used to be big in marketing appliances to raise demand for their power—we can do that sort of effort again, but now to sell being smarter.

It’s a red herring to claim consumers will not or cannot participate in energy efficiency.

People want lower bills (don’t just talk about rates); people will participate in programs that are understandable and easily accessible, part of a community buzz and that really deliver results—money savings for all (lower monthly costs, avoided waste of energy, limiting need for costly investments in additional power plants), as well as doing the right thing for our climate future.

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