Direct load control programs, which involve remotely switching consumer loads on and off, are a key component of most utilities’ demand response strategies. By employing these programs, utility companies can reduce peak-period loads to ensure grid reliability.
What’s more, utilities are also using load control programs to limit their wholesale power costs. By controlling the load on the distribution network for short periods during peak demand, they are able to reduce the need to purchase energy at high peak prices – a concept called economic dispatch. This means a typical 1,000-kWh residential customer bill can be lowered by as much as 25% when effective load control strategies are in place.
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In addition, the implementation of more distributed energy resources such as wind and solar creates new challenges for investor-owned utilities, municipals, and rural electric cooperatives that must balance the grid. These challenges, which are uniquely addressed by load control programs, are making the case for them more compelling.
Today, we see a number of factors driving the load control strategies within utilities.
These factors include:
- Market drivers such as aging infrastructure, demand volatility, wholesale price volatility, renewable portfolio standards, energy-efficiency resource standards, and generation and transmission markets.
- Available technology that can facilitate load control, including communications networks and load-control hardware and software.
- Changing business cases, which involve calculations based on:
- The estimated load shed per enrolled appliance
- The number of each type of participating appliance
- The duration of the load shed
- The market value of load shed to the utility, which can vary based on factors such as how much the utility pays to its energy suppliers, the types of programs the utility is using, and how many devices are controlled.
It is essential that utilities implement a long-term load management strategy and select the technologies that will best meet their intended requirements both now and into the future.
For example, load control programs aimed at improving reliability require a different strategy than those aimed at reducing wholesale power prices. Load control events for reliability usually occur three to four times per year. These events may require shedding load quickly across an entire service territory. Those undertaken for reasons of economic dispatch may occur more frequently and involve a fewer number of households.
However, no matter what the utility’s load control strategy or the technologies used, it is important that customers feel the least amount of disruption to their daily lives as possible.
One of Aclara’s utility customers, for example, has conducted surveys that indicate most consumers do not even realize that they have experienced a change in their electrical load, a testament to the precise level of control afforded by modern load control technologies.
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