2012: Not The Summer Of Smart Grid To The Rescue

Editor’s Note: EarthTechling is proud to repost this article courtesy of Greentech Media. Author credit goes to Katherine Tweed.

Officially summer is still going, but many of us can agree that it feels long gone. In some parts of the U.S., cooler air is pushing south and east this weekend, and the beginning of the school year certainly makes sweltering summer days seem like a lifetime ago.

There were plenty of hot days this summer, however, and Opower has posted some interesting data on its blog about how the hottest days drive even higher peak energy use.

Opower Summer 2012 data

image via Opower

July 2012 was the hottest month ever recorded in the U.S. There were more than 27,000 daily high-temp records broken or tied this year.

Despite a lot of bickering, many of us pass our days quite comfortably in air-conditioned (often over-air-conditioned) environments. During the hottest days of summer where the mercury plows into triple digits, an average home’s energy use is 40 percent higher than a typical summer day, according to Opower.

On a day where the thermometer hits 103 degrees Fahrenheit, electricity use in the late afternoon is 40 percent higher than when it’s 83 degrees, and wholesale electricity prices are 100 percent higher, Opower reported on its blog. As it gets hotter, everyone cranks the AC.

Of course, that increased electricity use mostly comes from peaker plants, which cost a whole lot more and are often not as efficient compared to standard plants. With companies like Opower pushing data and behavioral analytics, and literally hundreds of energy management services now on offer, we wondered earlier this year whether 2012 would be the summer where smart grid would come to the rescue during the most sweltering of days.

The answer, for the most part, is not really. Sure, there is Oklahoma Gas & Electric’s residential demand response program, which is helping to offset new generation until after 2020. EPB Chattanooga used its smart grid to cut outages in half after a summer storm.

But there’s still a long way to go. A report put out last month by the World Energy Council, IBM and others found that smarter grids could shave up to 20 percent off of a utility’s peak power demands. We’re still waiting for that real-world example.

In many regions, peak load shaving is still pretty old-fashioned, even with increasing demand response. Big factories and companies turn stuff down for a few hours. On the residential side, the technology used to cut power during peak afternoons can be phone messages, as with Consolidated Edison’s territory in New York City, for example — even though you’re probably already at work by the time the call arrives. (In fairness, Con Ed is also piloting a connected window AC demand response program.)

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