Demand Response in the Wake of the Polar Vortex
image credit: Smart Electric Power Alliance
- Feb 12, 2019 4:57 pm GMT
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After having suffered through brutal cold if the last week of January via the polar vortex, most places in the United States (at least for now) have returned to normal levels of cold for the winter. While the vortex is not a fun event to go through, not only for the cold itself but because I'm personally sick of hearing from political leaders that cold weather is somehow proof that we don't have to worry about climate change, the extreme cold temperatures did present an opportunity for utilities to address and respond to the conditions.
The main way the utilities were examined in the wake of extreme cold was in how various generation sources weathered the conditions (an important topic, which you can see covered in some great Energy Central posts, including: Polar Vortex set to test Midwest grids amid FERC resilience debate, Deep Freeze Puts Strain On Midwest Gas And Electricity Grids, and PJM and Members Prepared to Meet Winter Electricity Demand), another compelling way in which the vortex presented challenges and opportunities to evaluate operations came in demand response.
In particular, I wanted to highlight this piece the demonstrates how the polar vortex offered utility customers a lesson in demand response. The main takeaways of note include:
- In Michigan due to lack of natural gas to meet demand and the need to preserve its use in critical locations like hospitals, utilities and government officials asked residents to turn down their thermostats (to the mid-60s). Similar efforts were used in Minnesota to battle demand during the vortex
- These are examples of demand response in which customers are asked to voluntarily reduce energy use to benefit the grid and/or gas network
- Outside of extreme weather or emergencies, demand response is intended to reduce the need to add extra and costly generation plants to the grid, but the polar vortex showed how similar efforts could also be employed unexpectedly when the need arises
Most compelling, I found this quote from the article:
Some experts say this week’s harsh weather could raise awareness about demand response, an issue mostly unknown by average ratepayers and often lost in regulatory proceedings.
“Even when you have time-of-use rates, it doesn’t seem people are always aware of knowing when to cut electricity use,” said Steve Campbell, an attorney at Clark Hill who specializes in energy regulation. “This is sort of a dramatic way to introduce it to people and put it in their minds.”
Obviously we're never rooting for a polar vortex or needs to curtail energy use, but what do you take away from the polar vortex and how it may have introduced demand response concepts to previously unaware customers? Could and should this be leveraged as an opportunity moving forward? Is there momentum for such utilities to target pilot demand response programs in this way?