Smart power programs reduce costs, save energy

Pennsylvania lawmakers next  week will begin debate on a move to make curbing electricity costs easier by requiring utilities to offer real-time pricing to businesses and consumers through high-tech wireless meters so customers or third party companies can control their own use as power prices climb. Typically customers pay a flat rate for electricity but new offerings like the one proposed in Pa. let users pay by the cost of the actual kilowatt-per-hour of  power. Pa’s governor says in a Philadelphia Inquirer story today letting electricity users see and respond to the cost of power is the key to cutting consumption during peak-demand periods. Those are the periods, perhaps 100 hours a year, when the region's power prices can soar to 10 or 20 times the average price - costs that utilities must cover when they set flat, year-round rates.  There are other off-peak hours that businesses could use to drive down electrical costs.The concept may be radical, but it’s not new.   Pa. is would like to piggy-back on the success of a similar program in other states such as Illinois where the ComEd utility recently made a real-time-pricing program permanent and available to all its customers. Its goal is to sign up 110,000 over the next several years, the Inquirer article said. ComEd's experience in the Chicago area, with a meter that costs the utility $140 apiece, suggests that motivated customers can learn to respond to power prices, much as cell-phone users have learned to shift optional calls to off-peak hours, the Inquirer states. Program participants cannot read up-to-the-minute power prices off their meters but rather must go to a Web site called www.thewattspot.com. The Web site is run by Comverge, one of a growing number of companies that can control and manage power over a wide area. So for example, Comverge will use wireless signals to the smart meter to  cut back their business and home air-conditioning use when prices rise past a predetermined level.Comverge is just one example of these demand-reduction programs.One of New England’s largest grocery store chains, Stop & Shop signed up with EnerNOC to reduces stress on the electric power grid during periods of high peak demand.  EnerNOC develops and provides demand response and energy management for commercial, institutional, and industrial customers, as well as electric power grid operators and utilities in the United States. Through the e company’s Network Operations Center  the firm can remotely manage electricity consumption across a network of end-use customer sites and make electric capacity and energy available to grid operators and utilities on demand.Stop & Shop, which has about 300 stores, says is New England and New York Stop & Shop stores can reduce more than 40 megawatts  of electric consumption in aggregate from the grid through EnerNOC.  Other demand reduction programs are offered through Itron and Echelon.According to an article in the Wall Street Journal. Utilities and grid operators in general are reporting a surge in participation in programs that encourage customers to turn off inessential equipment, shift schedules or take other steps toward greater energy efficiency. That is especially the case in states that have made conservation a central pillar of energy policies aimed at controlling greenhouse-gas emissions and restraining energy costs. In New England, businesses this year have agreed to cut electricity use by 1,222 megawatts when called upon, twice as much as last year. In California, where the second heat wave of the summer season sputtered out Wednesday after causing as many as 25 deaths, grid officials said calls to the public to reduce electricity consumption proved effective. A plea Aug. 30, a day of very tight supplies, resulted in 1,000 megawatts of conservation, an amount equal to the output of two large power plants, the WSJ said. In the Midwest and mid-Atlantic states, a slew of programs has attracted the participation of scores of firms with the promise of rewards. Big energy users cut electricity usage by nearly 2,000 megawatts on Aug. 8, a day when supplies were stretched thin in the multistate area where power flows are managed by PJM Interconnection.Utilities, meanwhile, have expanded programs that promote energy-saving equipment, using efficient light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, or compact fluorescent lights, variable-speed motors and efficient chillers. They also have been expanding programs that give them greater ability to cycle air conditioners, again reducing overall energy consumption and peak use the WSJ said.

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