Understanding Peak Demand: A Q&A with Ted Trabue

07/03/2018
With the first summer heat wave of 2018 fresh in the minds of DC residents, DCSEU Managing Director Ted Trabue answers popular questions around peak demand and what it means for electric customers in the District.
Q. What is peak demand?

A. Peak demand occurs during periods of simultaneous, strong consumer demand - that is to say, when the majority of people in an area are using energy-intensive equipment all at the same time. Air conditioners are especially energy intensive, so periods of extreme heat, such as during the city's current heat wave, can cause us to hit peak demand rather quickly. 

Q. How do periods of peak demand affect me as a consumer?

A. Ultimately, we are all working to help prevent the system from being overloaded and to ensure it can adequately meet the energy needs of all customers. If you are participating in a seasonal savings program, your air conditioner may be cycled off for between 15 and 30 minutes an hour during a peak demand event. Commercial electric customers might be asked to shed load within their buildings, which can be done through using daylight instead of artificial light, closing off elevator banks, raising the chilled water set point by a small amount of degrees, or using other energy control systems (when available). Some commercial building management companies even work with building tenants on campaigns to encourage behavioral changes that will lower the building's energy use.

Q. How do periods of peak demand affect DC?

A. In an interview with CleanTechnica earlier this year, I spoke about the importance of managing energy consumption in a quickly growing city. When it comes to growing energy demand, you either build more transmission and distribution capabilities or you help people reduce consumption. Supplying electricity for an ever increasing peak demand requires building more electricity infrastructure such as generators and higher capacity powerlines. Ultimately, customers pay to build this infrastructure through increases in the price of power, even though much of it goes unused for the remainder of the year. Reducing consumption helps reduce the load on the system, and lowers the need for such costly infrastructure upgrades.

Q. Why is reducing peak demand a good idea?

A. Saving electricity during a peak demand period is beneficial to the community and to the electricity system. The price of electricity during peak demand time is the most expensive, so you benefit from reducing cost as you reduce consumption during these times. This especially affects commercial customers, who can be at risk of incurring large fees during peak demand times. In addition to affecting the price of electricity, peak demand can push the limits of the available electric supply. One example of this can be seen in recent days in Los Angeles, where a record-setting heatwave has left tens of thousands of electric customers without power. Organizations like the DCSEU exist to help the city reduce its electric demand, which in turn helps prevent a crisis of this scale from affecting the District's electric customers.

Q. What can I do to help?

A. Energy efficiency reduces both energy use and peak demand, so making your home or business as energy efficient as possible is a great place to start. Remember the basic tips: close your curtains, keep your air conditioner at a comfortable yet efficient temperature, and keep doors and windows closed during the hottest summer days. You can also opt-in to programs such as Pepco EnergyWise Rewards or Nest Seasonal Savings (for those with Nest smart thermostats). For business owners and building managers, now is a great time to explore the growing variety of technology and products that help you understand your building's energy use and shave peak demand.  

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