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Michigan residents might not have to wait for the next polar vortex to hear more about demand response.Michigan residents’ responses ranged from helpful to spiteful when utilities asked them to turn down thermostats this week. Collectively, though, they informally engaged in a clean energy concept known as demand response. Demand response is a term for voluntary programs that incentivize utility customers to reduce energy use during peak demand periods. When weather events occur — hot or cold — the idea is to lessen the stress on energy systems. That can help utilities avoid having to use or build expensive infrastructure. On Wednesday, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy asked customers to turn thermostats down to the mid-60s while outside temperatures hovered at or below 0. Xcel Energy in Minnesota did the same as roughly 150 customers lost gas service due to a supply shortage.
More: 7 takeaways on how grid operator PJM weathered this week’s polar vortex
DTE’s and Consumers’ efforts differed, though. That morning Consumers had a fire at a critical natural gas compression station in southeast Michigan that constrained its ability to deliver gas to customers. DTE asked customers to reduce their electricity usage as the regional grid required an usually large amount of gas generation. Both requests adhered to the principle of demand response: Customers voluntarily reducing energy use to benefit the electric grid and gas network. Consumers officials reported Thursday that the request — sent via emergency text message at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday — reduced gas demand by 10 percent.
Interesting that this is essentially a mass demand response endeavor, which could bolster the use of demand response in the future.https://t.co/D2UFDFjsSehttps://t.co/RDfTgzgIoYhttps://t.co/y0xMcwKm5J https://t.co/cmf2Sf95lR— Steve Campbell (@SteveCampbellNe) January 31, 2019
‘An emergency’Consumers spokesperson Katie Carey called this week’s request an “emergency public safety situation.” “Demand response is targeted toward customers who are enrolled in the program,” Carey said. “Customers receive incentives/day notice, etc. through the program. This is not demand response — it was a system-wide voluntary curtailment.” For its electric customers, Consumers switches air conditioners to turn them off and offers time-of-use rates in the summer. Douglas Jester, a principal with 5 Lakes Energy in Lansing, said the polar vortex required grid operator MISO to “basically run all available power plants” in its northern region. “[MISO] triggered a process where member utilities are supposed to ask interruptible customers to cut back,” Jester said.
Ongoing #PolarVortex in the US #Midwest has led to wind chills of -40 to -50 degrees and put many lives in danger. This provides a compelling use case for mainstream natural gas #demandresponse programs beyond traditional electric DR programs. #Utilities…https://t.co/wQV3pra5YS— Harish Raju (@hraju) January 31, 2019
Raising awarenessSome experts say this week’s harsh weather could raise awareness about demand response, an issue mostly unknown by average ratepayers and often lost in regulatory proceedings. “Even when you have time-of-use rates, it doesn’t seem people are always aware of knowing when to cut electricity use,” said Steve Campbell, an attorney at Clark Hill who specializes in energy regulation. “This is sort of a dramatic way to introduce it to people and put it in their minds.” And while DTE and Consumers have had widespread deployment of smart meters on the electric side, “they have not yet fully implemented the ability of smart meters to support these kinds of programs,” Jester said. “Right now we don’t have demand response programs built around smart meter capability.” Carey said Consumers’ smart meters only read gas usage and “do not have any capability to regulate gas use. The technology does exist to provide this type of capability in the future, but it isn’t part of our capability right now.”
Imagine how much more reliable and efficient our power grid would be if all energy users had smart thermostats that could respond to demand signals from utilities in exchange for lower rates https://t.co/hXBpqH6SSX— Karlee Weinmann (@karleeweinmann) January 30, 2019