Utility Update | Record cold leads to calls for electricity demand reduction

On Thursdays, the Mayor’s Office of Transportation & Utilities (MOTU) posts a graphic, map, news, or research about utilities here in Philadelphia.

The frozen Schuykill last January, photo by Matt Blaze licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

The frozen Schuylkill River in January. Photo by Matt Blaze licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

What do freezing winter temperatures and sweltering summer heat have in common? (Besides being topics for commiseration in the grocery line.) Both lead to sudden peaks in electricity demand, which stress electric grid reliability and increase electricity prices.

A little while ago we posted about the efforts of city facilities to reduce peak electricity loads on two of the hottest days last summer. These facilities participate in an “emergency demand response” program sponsored by PJM, the electricity transmission organization that serves the Philadelphia area (and 13 states and the District of Columbia).

Last month, demand response became a winter program, too. PJM reports that eight of its ten highest winter electricity demand days occurred in January 2014.

The City of Philadelphia has 23 facilities engaged in PJM’s demand response program. By curtailing electricity use on high demand days, the City contributes to the reliability of the regional power grid, saves money on electricity bills, and even receives financial rewards from PJM.  Although participation in winter demand response is not required under PJM’s current program, several city buildings voluntarily reduced peak electricity loads on the 7th, 20th, and 27th of January.  One PWD facility reduced its peak load by 5.2 megawatts on the 7th—a significant drop.

The need for winter demand response arises because cold temperatures increase use of electric heating as well as of equipment that circulates warm air (e.g., heat pumps).  In addition, changing weather forecasts can necessitate demand response.  During the winter, power plants are commonly taken offline to undergo routine maintenance. It can take time for supply to ramp back up in response to unexpected spikes in demand, like those we saw last month due to prolonged blasts of arctic air.

Some Philadelphia residents also received demand response requests in January. On the coldest days, residential consumers can help regional grid reliability by reducing use of electric heaters (as health permits), postponing use of major appliances until the night, and by turning off lights, electronics, and appliances when not in use (always a good idea!).

For more information about PJM’s winter demand response efforts, check out this update. Read more about winter peak electricity loads from EnerNOC, one of the participating Curtailment Service Providers in PJMa company that assists Philadelphia with its demand response efforts here.

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