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Beating the Summer Heat and High Energy Demand

The summer of 2011 was one of the hottest in recorded history. In fact, the Washington Post reported that more than 9,000 record-high temperatures were set or tied in July across the U.S (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration indicates that the month of July was the fourth hottest on record in the United States). The heat continued into August with record breaking high temperatures in the Southern Plains including Oklahoma, Louisiana, Kansas, New Mexico and especially Texas. According to the Weather Channel, Houston had a record 24 straight 100+ degree days in August and San Antonio broke the record for the all-time high temperature when they hit 110 degrees on August 28th.

The summer heat wave also tested the ability of independent system operators and regional transmission organizations to deliver the necessary electricity to meet record demand. PJM Interconnection, the grid operator that manages the high voltage transmission system in all or parts of 13 states and Washington, D.C., announced that a new record for peak power use was set on July 21st.  Meanwhile, MISO, a grid operator in 12 states, also announced record-breaking energy usage. These levels of energy demand can leave grids susceptible to widespread power loss and even brownouts and blackouts. Coupled with the dramatic rises in regional marginal electricity prices that have been experienced during windows of peak demand, despite a relatively anemic economic environment, it is clear that immense economic, social and security value can be provided via active management of power consumption.

Thanks in part to load response programs, many regions were able to limit or to avoid completely power outages this summer. Load response – curtailing power use by end user electricity customers in response to the electric grid’s changing stress levels – is also an excellent entry vehicle for many businesses to engage in day-to-day energy management.

Commercial and industrial businesses that participate in load response programs are called upon during peak times to reduce their energy consumption, decreasing the overall stress on the power grid, mitigating volatility in real-time electricity prices, and ensuring that electricity needs are met throughout the community. When a load response “event” is called, such as during a heat wave with outside temperatures is reaching or exceeding 100+ degrees for several consecutive days, participating businesses are notified to reduce their energy usage by a predetermined amount. This action can significantly reduce the stress on the grid and decreases the likelihood of other effects, such as rolling blackouts.  Participating businesses are typically compensated for their availability to perform, even if an actual event is not experienced.

While curtailment can be achieved by manually reducing electricity usage – literally turning off power switches — there are tools that businesses can use to make load curtailment significantly easier and greatly increase overall energy efficiency. Energy management platforms, such as Constellation Energy’s VirtuWattTM, can not only automate the load shedding process by setting pre-programmed, automatic energy reduction strategies in motion, but also give users the ability to make more informed decisions about their electricity usage. VirtuWatt also enables monitoring of local grid conditions and real-time energy prices, so that consumption can be managed in the response to high electricity prices. As importantly, the minute-by-minute meter data provided by sophisticated demand response platforms is a critical element of wider energy efficiency and sustainability efforts and metrics.

This summer, many commercial and industrial facilities have responded to load response events and did their part toward balancing energy needs of their respective regions. More than 50 demand response events called between June and August, and participants were able to curtail thousands and even hundreds of thousands of megawatts in regions across the country. Participation in load response programs has become a proven strategy to not only reduce stress on the grid during the peak summer heat, but is also a fundamental part of many businesses’ energy procurement and energy management strategies. Businesses can give back to their communities by ensuring power is available when energy is most in demand, and utilize the experiences, revenues and technology infrastructure obtained through demand response efforts to accelerate their wider energy efficiency and sustainability efforts.

Gary Fromer is Senior Vice President, Demand Response, at Constellation Energy. Contact him at gary.fromer@constellation.com.

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