Ed’s note: Could customers help avoid blackouts?


I love university blogs and research papers. I don’t always understand the complicated physics or calculations, but I do so appreciate the level of thought that has been put into the delivery of a specific topic.

The Haas Business School at the University of California, Berkley, in particular, is always a good read. In their recent blog post, Why don’t we do it with demand? Severin Borenstein addressed the question of the recent blackouts in California, the set up of the system in California and the role of customers to help avoid blackouts.

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He shares that, in order to avoid more frequent blackout – which he believes are driven by increased electricity usage due to global warming, an increase in intermittent power generation and the proposed increased electrification of transport and homes – the following needs to happen:

  • Resource adequacy planning needs to be reexamined (in California in particular);
  • A more granular approach is needed to give accurate, year-round supply and demand figures;
  • Attention needs to be paid to the balancing and flexibility of the grid
  • or more nuclear/gas-fired generation could be built to support the occasional need for system balancing.

Or, Borenstein says, utilities can get the concept of demand response right, and encourage more support of the initiative.

He continues that research would indicate that the best way to proceed is through critical peak pricing programmes. Research apparently supports the idea that CPP programmes support substantial demand reductions. In fact, one research paper would indicate that making CPP the default results not only in high participation, but also in high customer satisfaction.

This is a shift on the concept of paying consumers to reduce load, in that with a CPP programme, consumer’s are given a low price through out the year, but pay significantly higher prices when supply is constrained.

Borenstein believes, however, that it’s not just the programme focus that needs to be changed, but the pricing signals that are being communicated and the times which are being classified as ‘peak’. He believes that this approach, coupled with clear communication as to what needs to be done, will significantly improve the situation and reshape demand. You can read his full blog post here

This did raise a number of questions though and I’d like to pose some of these to our readers:

  • Does this shift in programme focus and a rethink of peak times (5pm-9pm instead of 2pm-7pm as proposed in California in the summer) shift the burden of higher costs on those who can least afford it – namely the poor?
  • And from that – does cooking produce a significant enough load that the impact of higher peak pricing would impact them that significantly if their ultimate average price was lower?
  • Does this address or highlight the most significant challenge with renewable energy – intermittency means higher prices at the times power is needed the most – particularly at night?
  • Would this kind of shift lead to improved energy efficiency as well?
  • Or would the energy efficiency really only be seen by those who can least afford to spend a huge amount on energy to start with?
  • What kind of loads would benefit from being shifted to off-peak times – ie: EVs
  • How automated can this process be and how much control will the utility need to have to control certain load elements on the grid or in a house?
  • Is increased battery storage an option here, or will demand response always be a necessity in modern power systems?
  • Or is the question rather – do we need to look at some sort of distributed, home level battery storage to support demand/supply challenges?
  • Is this an opportunity for AMI to show its full value and provide pricing signals and control?

Speaking of asking questions: Did you know that our commercial team have an amazing add-on opportunity for all newly secured commercial offerings? Read about the offering and find out how you can take advantage of the opportunity.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on these questions – and others which may have piqued your interest. You can either email us at editorial@smart-energy.com or check our LinkedIn post.

Wishing you a well balanced week

Until next time!