Smart Energy: Saving money while keeping electricity fresh, balanced
By Diana Knous
Electricity is the ultimate fresh product. There is no effective electricity storage today, so as your electric service provider, we need to generate and deliver the power you need to run your business, your home and, yes, even charge your phone, adjusting our production as demand changes in real-time.
And, the push and pull of generation and use needs to stay in balance on a constant basis. It’s simple physics.
Too much power with no place to go overburdens the system. Not enough power to serve all the usage going on at any particular time causes outages.
To accomplish this 24/7 for more than a century is a challenge, but one we are experienced in meeting. Given the realities, we are always looking for ways to make sure we are matching power creation and power use in the most efficient way possible. This is especially true as we incorporate more and more renewable energy into the power mix we deliver to you.
Renewables, by their nature, are intermittent. The wind does not always blow and sun does not always shine. So we need a grid that is flexible and sophisticated enough to maximize use of the renewable sources when they are at capacity and quickly switch to getting power from other sources, or other areas where the wind is blowing and sun is shining. For that reason, we have been in the forefront of what is called the Energy Imbalance Market which allows us to meet those changing needs as cost-effectively as possible.
First, a little history. In the old days, like two years ago, we did this by phone. A power producer would call up other power companies and say, “hey the wind is really blowing and I have more power being produced than I have customers using it. If you don’t need it soon, I will need to shut down the wind turbine to keep the system in balance.”
The system worked in its way, but was not very efficient. Plant operations were sometimes cut back because the system was too slow in finding a potential user of the energy. That’s wasteful. The Energy Imbalance Market leverages advanced technology across six states to optimize resources to meet demand every five minutes. If we need extra power quickly, we immediately know the cheapest resource to meet that need. If we have extra power, we can offer it to others instead of “throwing it away”. This new system has saved Pacific Power customers and others in the Energy Imbalance Market $30 million in the first year of operation.
The larger market allows Pacific Power to take low cost power from California when it is generating surplus energy, typically solar, and alternatively allows California to purchase excess energy from the Northwest. The benefits of this regional collaboration are expected to grow as others join – so far NV Energy, Puget Sound Energy, Arizona Public Service, Portland General and Idaho Power have all announced plans to join in 2016 and beyond.
The larger footprint, the better chances of a utility in need of energy getting it quickly and at a reasonable cost. The same goes for companies producing power. Plants are operating more efficiently because it is so much easier to connect with a customer needing power in that instant.
The cost savings are good for all the utilities—and their customers. The added benefit is to producers of intermittent, renewable energy. Since these energy sources have no fuel costs, they’re the cheapest power to run. So the market optimizes itself to maximize the use of renewables which saves customers money AND reduces emissions.
That makes the Energy Imbalance Market a win for customers and the environment. And it is another way that Pacific Power is trying to serve our customers while protecting the environment
Douglas County Smart Energy is a project of the Douglas County Global Warming Coalition. For more information, contact 541-672-9819 or visit dcsmartenergy.org.