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Looking at loads and their impact to distribution circuits, I wonder if we should not ban certain devices?

Doug Houseman's picture
Visionary and innovator in the utility industry and grid modernization Burns & McDonnell

I have a broad background in utilities and energy. I worked for Capgemini in the Energy Practice for more than 15 years. During that time I rose to the position of CTO of the 12,000 person...

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  • Oct 5, 2022

1) Whole house tankless electric hot water heaters, and allow single faucet tankless or tanked hot water heaters.
2) EV chargers larger than 8 KW, when I posted on the cost of installing chargers at home the vast majority of EV owners argued that larger chargers were not required.
3) Any heat pump that cannot cover the temperature range in the area that it is installed

Should we ban things that cause large demand.

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Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Oct 6, 2022

It will never pass.  

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Oct 6, 2022

Let me just add one point to this. Certain groups want to have privileges they would deny to others. It's easy to say this is all a matter of Republican policy, and just elect Democrats, and you will have equality and the problem will be solved. If you really did have equality, and a willingness of people to sacrifice for the common good, you might be able to implement this.

But to point to one side and insist everything is their fault is not honest. In 2016, Markos Moulitsas, founder of the Daily Kos, a liberal online site, "told his readers not to care what happened to 120,000 coal miners in Appalachia whose pensions and health care are about to expire without federal help.

“Be happy for coal miners losing their health insurance. They’re getting exactly what they voted for,” his headline blared.

The brief piece was deliberately provocative, and many others on the left condemned Moulitsas as exemplifying everything that’s wrong with liberal condescension. At the New Republic, Sarah Jones said that liberals like Moulitsas “should try not having so much contempt for the poor.” In a post published on Common Dreams, Adam Johnson lamented that Moulitsas’s “moralistic voter-shaming is neither useful nor compassionate.” - see

This is characteristic of what I have heard in environmental economics conferences year in and year out. I tried to make the argument (in an Eastern Economics Association meeting) that gasoline taxes inherently weighed more on rural residents than urban/suburban residents. I was confronted by a young Indian (subcontinent) attendee, who insisted with a straight face that people in Wyoming could ride buses and their extra burden was their fault.

For more on this problem and a meaningful analysis, see

Julian Silk's picture
Julian Silk on Oct 9, 2022

Let me add one last thing. Doug Houseman is a wonderful and informative guy, and I don't want anything in these comments to be taken as personal criticism. By all means, engineers, please come up with all the ideas you possibly can. But in moving the ideas from the desktop to public trial stage, please be prepared for cold water to be poured on them - it's the cost of taking them seriously. My worry in Maryland is that the engineering solution advanced for the climate change problems will involve routing a transmission line right through the Triadelphia Reservoir, with no concern for how people want water and lower emissions. With Wyoming, a ban on these high-usage appliances simply won't be enforced - the Wyoming residents aren't going to have police forces go from home to home, and they won't organize to ride buses and then walk 10 miles back if they discover they have forgotten something.

To give Doug Houseman and anyone else who wants to get back at me a big, fat, target to aim at, let me advance my own wild idea: flooding tankers. Puerto Rico and Florida have just seen big deluges from hurricanes. Why not build a fleet of tankers to collect the excess rain as it pours down on the areas where there are massive storms, and, once the storms are over, then transport the water up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and try to use it to refresh the Ogallala Aquifer? The ranchers in the West are suffering severely from drought, and having an opportunity for relief might induce them and others to cooperate on more ideas to deal with climate problems.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Oct 11, 2022

I don't think your idea isn't all that wild, Julian. It won't work, but it holds the germ of an idea that could work. It's something we may be forced into, if we hope to mitigate damage from the chaotic weather that global warming and the disintegrating boundary between the Hadley and polar atmospheric circulation cells are visiting upon us.

The problem with your idea is basing it on the use of tankers. No tanker we could build would hold more than a fraction of a percent of the water dumped into a watershed by a large superstorm. We're talking as much as a million acre-feet in 24 hours. The resulting flash floods would wreak havoc long before reaching the Mississippi or any rivers large enough to float even small tankers.

What we will need instead are thousands of flood control reservoirs distributed along rivers and streams throughout vulnerable areas. We don't want to sacrifice the land area that would be needed for those reservoirs, so they will need to be underground. Normally empty, they'll be designed to accept water fast enough to prevent flash flooding. After the storm has passed, the reservoirs will be re-emptied at rates that the streams can handle. Then the high water in the rivers that the streams flow into can be relieved by transporting water upstream and ultimately into the Ogallala aquifer or adjoining river watersheds that need the water.

As to how it could be feasible to construct thousands of "underground" reservoirs with aggregate water storage capacity of hundreds of millions of acre-feet, well, that's another story. Maybe I'll write about it at some point. 

Richard Brooks's picture
Richard Brooks on Oct 9, 2022

I cannot agree with this approach. This line of thinking would have banned air conditioners, refrigerators and other appliances we rely on. Build the system to meet the demand, don't constrain the demand.

Michael Keller's picture
Michael Keller on Oct 10, 2022

The political elite already require forced use (mandates) of renewable energy, turning off HVAC when grid loads are too high, paying firms to produce unneeded power, banning incandescent light bulbs, etc. Looks to me the proposal is just a logical extension of efforts to expand control over energy use.

Energy policy should be based on providing reliable, reasonably clean, and reasonably priced energy. Consumers should be free to use the  product as they see fit.

Roger Arnold's picture
Roger Arnold on Oct 11, 2022

I'd say your short post and question have hit a nerve, Doug. An ideological nerve, as it happens. Which may be the worst kind of nerve to hit.

I'm neither a liberal nor a conservative. I'm an engineer. Ideologies are constructs built around prescriptive narratives about how the world works, or should work. In practice, they're about tribal identification and bonding, not about the truth. Your question "should we ban things that cause large demand", is an invitation to competing ideological responses. That pesky "should" is an open flood gate.

To give a response that is at least somewhat technical, I'll note that the main problem isn't so much things that cause large demand, but things that do so unpredictably. Intermittent renewables can provide low cost electricity to any load that is able to use it on an "as available" basis. 

There are viable ways to provide hot water and space heating and cooling that are both efficient and flexible. They can condition their use of energy on a real-time price that reflects the overall balance of available supply and demand. The price for that flexibility is higher up-front cost, in the form of thermal energy stores and good insulation. Even fast home EV charging can be supported without stressing the grid. The cost is a high capacity home battery that can accumulate charge slowly, when power is cheaply available, and transfer it quickly to an EV when fast charging is needed.

I don't believe that these solutions should be mandated, however. They can and should be adequately incentivized by the energy cost savings they will ultimately deliver. That's not an ideological position; it's a perfectly good engineering position based on a lifetime of observation of human behavior and analysis of human organizations and institutions. Mandated solutions alienate many and bring bureaucratic overhead. Market-driven solutions are not always optimal or even possible, but where they are possible, they tend to work better. 

Doug Houseman's picture
Doug Houseman on Oct 12, 2022

Thank you for all the responses. 

This was written to touch people sensitivities and provoke thought. 

In the examples there are lower demand alternatives available for each item. 

Too often we go though life not thinking about costs and options. 

Mark Silverstone's picture
Mark Silverstone on Oct 12, 2022

In the not too distant past (~40 years ago) it was fairly common in European countries to have a «limiter» switch in a home which prevented drawing more current than a set/contracted amount. In practice it prevented running, for example, the oven, dryer and washer at the same time. One could pay a higher rate to allow a higher limit on total concurrent power consumption.  Every home had an analog meter so one could check how much power was being drawn at the moment.
Eventually, it was no longer required. But it is possible that those days could return.

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