While electrifying heating is an important step in decarbonization, increased electrical load in the winter is a new challenge many energy providers will have to face. Most utilities are prepared for summer peaks, but winter peaks can last over several days where summer ones typically only last a few hours. And power outages or shortages in the winter can put people’s health and safety at risk–even making homes inhabitable in very cold temperatures.
One solution is to build new power plants to accommodate the new demand. However, this would set back the progress to decarbonization, negating the benefits of electrification. So how do utilities deliver reliable energy in the middle of new, intense spikes?
ACEEE’s latest report “Demand-Side Solutions to Winter Peaks and Constraints” explores what measures can help utilities effectively mitigate these winter peaks. Demand-side management (DSM) measures such as weatherization and improved heat pump performance showed the potential for the greatest impact, reducing peak demand by 7-34%. Demand response, including managed charging, was also listed as a cost-effective solution to reducing winter peaks.
ACEEE recommends that utilities:
Provide incentives for efficient space heating such as heat pumps that require less energy than traditional heating. According to ACEEE, 70% of winter morning peak energy comes from space heating, mostly in the form of electric resistance heat.
Encourage customers to replace inefficient water heaters and to participate in demand response water heating programs. Representing 19% of energy use, water heating usually takes place during times of peak demand, further contributing to the problem. By heating water outside of peaks, utilities can shift additional demand.
Weatherize homes to reduce air leakage and thus the energy required to heat the space through insulation, duct sealing, and weather stripping. Weatherization can also contribute to lower energy costs, improved indoor air quality, and better comfort and health.
Install smart thermostats to better control heating, often with rebates to make them more affordable and accessible. Connecting smart thermostats to demand response programs can deliver additional energy savings to customers and utilities alike, especially around peak events.
Retrofit lights, taking advantage of larger opportunities in the commercial and industrial sectors. Since light usage increases in the winter due to less daylight hours, this can have a big impact on reducing peak demand.
Launch and grow managed electric vehicle (EV) charging during off-peak hours, especially as the number of EVs and the power needed to fuel them grow. Nudging customers to charge EV batteries during off-peak hours can reduce demand without causing inconvenience since customers can be flexible on the timing of the battery charge. This can be accomplished through higher peak time rates or through a demand response charging program.
Encourage customer energy storage to capture energy, especially distributed resources, when it is readily available for use later–increasing reliability. Storage can act as a back-up during an outage or can act as a way to save money during peak demand times.
Implement time-of-use rates that align demand with the cost of energy, incentivizing customers to use less energy during peak demand. ACEEE found that TOU rates reduced residential peak demand by 16%.
While these initiatives each can help utilities reduce winter peak demand, the reality is that a combination of these will be the most effective and drive down energy usage during the most popular times. They can also provide greater customer comfort and control as well as help lower customer energy bills- a win for both customers and utilities.