Customers of Oregon public power utility Eugene Water and Electric Board played a key role in maintaining grid stability during a recent extreme heat wave by acting collectively and making small adjustments to temporarily reduce energy consumption, EWEB said on Aug. 24.
Electricity was in short supply for several days during the week of Aug. 14 as temperatures crested 100 degrees for four days in a row and several regional electricity generators were shut down due wildfire conditions, including EWEB’s Carmen-Smith hydroelectric project.
In response, EWEB issued its first-ever voluntary call for customers to safely conserve energy on Aug. 15. The utility sent an email to 66,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers, and issuing an alert on social media.
“Customers responded in force by raising the temperature settings on their air conditioners, charging electric vehicle overnight rather than in the evening, delaying running large appliances such as dryers or dishwashers until after 9 p.m. and turning off unnecessary lights and electronics,” EWEB noted.
By comparing customers’ hourly electricity demand on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, EWEB estimated that customers’ actions caused demand to be 10 to 15 megawatts lower than expected, given the temperatures and compounding heat effects. That’s roughly the equivalent of 10,000 to 15,000 window air conditioners getting shut off.
By cutting back on consumption, customers both reduced strain on the grid and contributed to keeping EWEB’s electric rates low by helping EWEB avoid paying exorbitant prices for electricity on the wholesale market, the utility noted.
“Power prices fluctuate by the hour, and customers’ actions allowed EWEB to skip purchasing some energy when prices were at their highest – ultimately saving EWEB customers money on rates in the long run,” it said.
On Tuesday and Wednesday of the week in August, power prices ranged from $70 per megawatt-hour overnight, when demand was lowest, to as high as $1,800 per megawatt-hour from 5 to 8 p.m. when demand was highest. At the peak of the day, when prices were highest, reduced energy usage saved EWEB and customers approximately $10,000 per hour.
EWEB said that future customer programs that EWEB will soon start assessing could look like last month’s call to conserve.
Electric utilities across the Northwest and the entire nation have instituted various demand response programs that incentivize customers to use less electricity when overall demand is at its highest, it noted.
The programs largely depend on advanced metering infrastructure, or smart meters, EWEB noted.
EWEB has been rolling out smart meters to customers free of charge over the last several years, though supply chain disruptions in the last two years have slowed down deployment. So far, EWEB has deployed more than 68,000 electric smart meters, covering about 69% of customers.
Demand response programs also rely on modern back-end computer systems that better integrate information related to metering, energy supply, customer demand and billing. EWEB is currently undergoing a major technology upgrade to do just that.
Integrated Resource Planning
EWEB’s 2023 Integrated Resource Planning process identified demand response programs as a key element of the utility’s future resource mix.
The IRP forecasted electricity demand 20 years into the future and used modeling software to analyze dozens of resource options -- such as wind, solar and hydropower -- to create potential mixes of electricity sources that will reliably meet customers’ needs at the lowest price while being 95% carbon-free.
The analysis yielded valuable insights about the challenges EWEB faces in the future, it noted.
EWEB said it doesn’t need to procure any resources in the next few years and will instead spend that time conducting additional analysis and preparing for the 2025 IRP.
One of those studies will look specifically at demand response. The study will seek to determine how much potential exists among EWEB customers for demand response programs, which ones are the best fit, how much they would cost to administer and what benefits would result.
EWEB will also conduct a study on the potential to incentivize customers to conserve and consume less energy overall.