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News / Life / Clark County Life

Energy Adviser: Demand for power spikes in hot, cold weather

By Clark Public Utilities
Published: May 13, 2023, 6:02am

Electricity is a resource consumed nearly the instant it is produced. Just as our days follow a certain cadence, our personal and our community’s energy consumption follow a rhythm that rises and falls.

Graph it out on paper, and you’ll see spikes during specific times of day, certain times of the year and during big weather events.

On a typical day in Clark County, electricity demand peaks in the mornings when everyone wakes up to start their day, falls during the workday and peaks again in the evening when it’s time to cook, heat or cool our homes and use our electronic devices. These spikes grow even larger during heat waves or cold snaps that push our climate control systems into overdrive.

At some utilities around the country, those demand spikes reach levels that strain their local grid or come when utilities have to pay the highest rates for power.

One of the most promising tools utilities have developed to reduce those demand peaks is called demand response. Utilities with demand response programs incentivize customers to shift when they use electricity. For example, offering customers a discounted electric rate during a window of time before demand is typically highest.

For utility managers, giving consumers a discount or credit on their bill to change their behavior is much cheaper than buying extra energy from the market and much quicker to implement than building new power plant and/or transmission infrastructure.

“Demand response programs are a great way to manage our peak demands for electricity,” said Clark Public Utilities Energy Resources Program Manager Matt Babbitts. “They allow utilities to reduce their operating expenses, avoid building new resources and provide increased customer satisfaction with a nice discount.”

For a demand response program to work, the utility must have a way to send signals to a participating customer’s home equipment or appliances.

Currently, the most common programs use the home HVAC system with an internet-connected smart thermostat. Those customers get a discount to pre-heat (or cool) their home before the peak demand period. The more customers that participate the lower the peak and the less strain on the grid and the less high-priced power the utility has to buy.

Demand response programs are not widely used in the Pacific Northwest, yet.

Our local energy companies, including Clark Public Utilities, don’t face the same kind of challenges as their peer utilities. The region’s mild climate, abundant hydropower and 40-plus years of proactive energy efficiency campaigns have kept power cheap and the demand side of the equation well within manageable levels.

But as demand response proves itself a nimble and cost-effective tool, and technology enables more household appliances to participate, regional utilities may embrace it sooner rather than later.

The region’s growing population and society’s increased reliance on electricity is increasing local energy demands.

Plus, lawmakers are laying the groundwork demand response. Next year in Washington, all new electric water heaters will have a communications protocols to be demand response ready.

Also, the state’s Clean Energy Transformation Act mandates electric utilities develop annual demand response program targets and start testing different approaches. Clark Public Utilities has no plans to introduce any new programs this year, but it is considering an electric vehicle charging demand response pilot in the future.

“EV charging is a prime activity for a demand response program,” Babbitts said. “Incentivizing EV owners to charge their cars after peak hours will keep power supply costs down and make fully charging your EV even cheaper.”

Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98688.

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