While we excitedly await the temporary darkness of August 21, on May 3rd Californians could also have been in the dark. The reason consumers in California had power was because of a resource called “demand response”. Demand response is the coordinated reduction of electricity use by consumers to provide reliability, prevent black-outs, or to lower prices when electricity is in high demand.
At approximately 7 p.m. May 3rd, the electric power grid operator (CAISO) was nearing a power shortage because demand for electricity was nearly 2,000 MW (about what it takes to run 400,000 homes) higher than forecasted, and some imported power did not arrive as expected. The combination of more demand and fewer resources created an “Emergency” under federal regulations. Utilities were requested to dispatch their demand response programs. By 9 p.m., about 800 MW of demand response was called into action and, as a result, the Emergency was lifted. Without that demand response, many Californians could have lost their electricity.
Demand response is not a bright, shiny object like solar panels or energy storage. But it is a powerful and flexible partner for a reliable, resilient grid--a resource that can be deployed quickly and accurately. Customers, in many cases aided by new smart technologies or energy management services, provide the resource—often automatically--by altering their consumption and getting payments for their action, to their benefit as well as to everyone on the grid. Demand response also lessens the need for less efficient, dirtier peaking power plants to run.
Another example of demand response providing a valuable service to the grid occurred in 2014 when, that February, the Polar Vortex taxed the ability for generation to keep up with demand for heat. Natural gas supply in California was re-directed to the Northeast, reducing the ability for gas generators in California to produce local power. Demand response resources were dispatched to maintain the reliability of the electricity system. Outside of California, demand response supported the electricity grids in New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and in Texas, as unprecedented cold weather loaded the grid to a near breaking point.
As we don our special glasses for the full solar eclipse, with smart demand response at the ready, the state’s eclipse response can be clean and efficient. Advanced Energy Management Alliance member companies are coordinating with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), utilities, and the state grid operator, to prepare our customers and help them do what they can to preserve the electric grid’s reliability during this rare occurrence. We will continue to work with the CPUC and other state institutions to evolve the regulations and market rules in California to allow more consumers to participate when the grid is challenged or when prices are high. Demand response can keep the lights on, help consumers lower their electric charges, and ensure all Californians--and, hopefully, more consumers throughout the U.S.--have cleaner air.
Katherine Hamilton, Executive Director, Advanced Energy Management Alliance