Peak Demand: Conserving energy lowers costs for everyone
Peak power refers to the time of day when there is the most demand for electricity, requiring more power from the electrical supplier. This extra power to supply the peak demand — the electric utility industry’s equivalent of rush-hour traffic — is when power costs skyrocket. When costs to the power supplier increase, costs to the consumer increase as well.
As Wiregrass Electric grows, there is a natural demand for more electricity. During the hottest part of summer and the coldest days of winter, temperatures and humidity create a seasonal demand for more energy. Over time, your cooperative sets higher and higher peaks, creating the need to purchase capacity that is more expensive. Although the summers are hot and humid, Wiregrass Electric continues to set a winter peak — the most electricity used at any one time of the year.
Traditionally, peak times include the hours from 5-8 a.m. and 4-7 p.m. This is because people are waking up in the morning, taking showers, turning on TVs for the news, using hair dryers, and cranking up the coffee maker and skillet for breakfast. Then in the afternoons, they are coming home from work or school and again adjusting the thermostat, turning on TVs, cooking dinner, washing clothes and using computers. For Wiregrass Electric, the record peak demand — 131,100 KVA — was on Jan. 11, 2010, at 7:00 a.m., when the temperature dropped to 18 degrees and everyone cranked up their heat pumps to get warm while getting ready for school and work. Each year, Wiregrass Electric continues to have a winter peak.
How wholesale pricing works
Wholesale energy pricing depends on the peak demand. The wholesale power supplier must be able to produce enough power to supply the peak, even though that same peak load is not used continually throughout the year. The same goes for Wiregrass Electric, which must be able to supply consumers with the amount of power required, even though it may only be needed a couple of times a year.
Approximately 10 percent of the total existing generating capacity only gets used about 50 hours a year. Most of the time, that expensive capital equipment sits idle waiting for a crisis — extreme heat or extreme cold. And that is why peak power is the most expensive power.
Wiregrass Electric and PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, our wholesale power supplier, forecast occasions when a peak is expected. This means conditions exist that may cause the cooperative to establish a new high demand for electricity. As our electric system rises toward a peak, when conditions suggest higher electricity use (when temperatures are expected to go into the 20s or below or above 90 degrees), Wiregrass Electric or PowerSouth will announce a peak alert. At that time, the H2O load control devices installed on water heaters will power off from 5-7 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.
Keeping the electric demand (or peak) down will reduce the need to purchase expensive capacity and over time should help keep our rates lower. In addition, the greater the demand for electricity, the greater the impact on our natural resources and our environment. Keeping the system peak down is not only economically desirable, but also environmentally prudent.
The H2O Plus program can help
Wiregrass Electric has implemented a program to help reduce the peak with the H2O Plus program. With this program, consumers allow Wiregrass Electric to install a device on their water heater that can be cycled off during times of peak energy demand. When the water heater cycles, the elements will power down for a short period of time — usually no more than one to two hours — and restart in time to maintain plenty of hot water in the tank. The cycling process reduces the amount of power needed for the overall system’s peak demand. This program is designed to encourage wiser energy use during peak demand times, increasing the efficiency and reliability of Wiregrass Electric’s power system and helping to protect the environment by reducing power production.
In order to keep costs down, Wiregrass Electric asks for your assistance in reducing the amount of electricity being used. In the long run, this is accomplished with improvements in energy efficiency. However, on peak alert days, more immediate measures are necessary.
Some other things that you can do to help reduce demand are:
- In winter, set your heat thermostat at 68 degrees or lower and wear a sweater.
- In summer, set your air conditioner thermostat up 5 degrees and use fans.
- Use electricity for work (such as laundry, running the dishwasher, ironing, cleaning, etc.) during non-peak hours. Peak hours are between 5-7 a.m. and 4-6 p.m.
- Avoid using the oven during the heat of the day or during peak hours. A microwave is much more energy efficient.
- Take your showers at night before you go to bed rather than in the morning during peak times.
- Unplug unnecessary electric appliances and equipment.
- Don’t have every TV and light on in your home — learn to turn out lights when you leave a room.
- Turn off indoor and outdoor decorative lighting.
- Reduce exterior door openings and closings — weatherstrip and caulk.
- Sign up for H2O Plus — a program to control your electric water heater during peak alert times.
Following these energy tips will not only help reduce system demand, but if done on a consistent basis could save you 15-20 percent on your electric bills.