Energy efficiency a cost-effective way to mitigate winter power outages – ACEEE

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A new report released by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) states that energy efficiency is a cost-effective way for utilities in the US to address cold-weather electricity challenges.

The release of the Demand-Side Solutions to Winter Peaks and Constraints report follows utilities in the US struggling to meet electricity demand due to high consumer energy usage in recent winters.

In mid-February 2021, nearly 3.4 million energy customers in the Midwest, Texas and the South were left without electricity following the failure of grid networks to meet demand as well as to operate under the intense cold weather.

By investing heavily to weatherise homes, to improve heating efficiency, and in demand response mechanisms, rather than building new energy generation plants, utilities have a simpler and sustainable way to meet winter peaks and other cold-weather demand constraints states the report.

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The study states that there is a need to invest in the development of energy-efficient heating standards, appliances and technologies as the electrification of buildings and home appliances intensify under efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The report finds that residential weatherisation and the use of more efficient heat pump models are the most important measures.

ACEEE found that better-sealed homes, higher-performing heat pumps, and grid-interactive home appliances have the potential to reduce winter peak by up to 12% in New England by 2040. Adding more aggressive measures including deep retrofits, smarter commercial HVAC controls, and energy information management systems would reduce peak demand by up to 34%.

The study also suggest that limited fossil fuel backup in homes has the ability to further reduce the amount of electricity needed to deal with the most intense winter peak events.

In addition to implementing energy efficiency mechanisms, ACEEE has urged state policymakers and regulators to set utility goals for reducing winter peak demand and consider demand-side solutions for meeting it.

The report identifies more than 20 utility demand-side management programmes that can serve as models for effectively mitigating peak winter demand. 

The study recommends utilities to adapt existing programmes to incorporate technologies and measures that reduce winter peak demand as well as expand weatherisation and home retrofit funding.

Mike Specian, the lead author of the report and utilities programme manager at ACEEE, said: “Spikes in cold-weather power demand are a real concern if everything is running on electricity, but it’s a solvable problem. We wouldn’t want utilities to have to build new power plants that are often dirtier and more expensive, and if we get this right, they won’t have to.

“Utilities are ultimately responsible for delivering electricity reliably, and offering programmes to encourage these upgrades in homes will help them do that.”

The findings of the study by ACEEE are backed by a new report released by the Environment America Research & Development, which found that building electrification over the next 30 years is not only vital for the US to meet growing energy demand but to achieve its 2050 carbon emissions reduction goal.

The report states that Installing a heat pump over fossil fuel heating methods in a new home could save between $1,600 and $6,800 for space and water heating over a 15-year period and in other locations, savings could reach as high as $13,700 during the same timespan.

The report by ACEEE is available for download.