Think Negawatts, Not Megawatts
Mar 23, 2009 - Spencer Reiss - Wired
It's high noon in July. At 90-plus degrees outside,
the masses are jonesing for AC. But it's seriously
expensive to keep the juice flowing when demand crests.
Firing up turbines that sit idle 360 days a year can
multiply electricity costs by a factor of 10. How
to keep cool without stressing the grid?
Pay big users to cut consumption when the need arises.
Many utilities already do an ad-hoc version of this,
an emergency practice known as demand response that
has lately been promoted by Jon Wellinghoff, acting
chair of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Now there's an alternative: Call EnerNOC, a Boston-based
company that gangs commercial users who are willing,
for a quarterly payment, to trim back operations on
30 minutes' notice. EnerNOC micromanages consumption
at 3,400-plus locations from Maine to California.
Between dimming lights, adjusting thermostats, and
suspending industrial activities, the potential cuts
top the output of a large nuclear reactor. And the
savings can be huge. EnerNOC's cofounder, Tim Healy,
points out that 10 percent of all US generating capacity
exists to meet the last 1 percent of demand. Utilities
paid EnerNOC $100 million last year simply to stand
at the ready—insurance, in effect, against the inevitable
days when every AC unit is humming.