By Jonathan Marshall
It’s hot out there, in case you’ve been hibernating in a refrigerator and hadn’t noticed. In fact, much of California experienced record high temperatures on Monday (Oct. 1). And that means lots of power generators have been cranking out extra electricity to run millions of fans and air conditioners.
Fortunately, tens of thousands of PG&E customers, big and small, have helped keep the state’s electrical grid on an even keel by curbing their appetite for power during the peak afternoon hours. They are participants in “demand response” programs that reward them for putting up with a little discomfort for the greater good.
By cutting their demand, these customers help ensure grid reliability and prevent blackouts, and spare the air by reducing the need for extra fossil-fueled generation. As a nice reward, PG&E passes some of its savings on energy purchases back to these participants to lower their bills.
Nearly 80,000 residential customers are doing their bit to help through PG&E’s voluntary SmartRate™ program. It offers customers with electric SmartMeters™ a discount on their summer electric bills except on a few peak-demand days—no more than 15 each year—when rates jump 60 cents per kilowatt-hour from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Last year, SmartRate customers cut their peak energy use on those special days by an average of 13 percent—and saved an average of $27 over the course of the summer while enrolled in the program. That’s called a win-win. Even better, many participants have been motivated to save energy—and money—every day of the year.
Larry Kinsel of Bakersfield signed up for SmartRate four years ago and told me that he and his wife “couldn’t be more pleased” by the program. They cut their bills in half.
“We don’t use any excessive power on any days between 2 and 7—no washers, dishwasher, because we are saving our environment and our economy,” he said.
But the real secret to their saving is that SmartRate motivated them to change their energy-use habits year-round. Now they routinely set their thermostat at 80 degrees in summer and 67 in the winter—whether or not a special program day is in effect.
“It’s created a whole new lifestyle for us,” he explained.
Ogden Kiesel, also of Bakersfield, said he and his wife “are pretty militant” about slashing their energy use when PG&E notifies them of an impending peak-demand day.
“At 2 in the afternoon, we turn everything off except maybe the fan and TV,” he said. “We hang out on the shady side of the house, or try to get out in the later hours and seek other activities. We will also precool the house a little. The other thing I’ve done because of SmartRate is regularly track my energy use online. Because of that, I have a much more acute understanding of our overall energy use.”
Jim Richardson of Danville was on the SmartRate program for a couple of years but had to drop it temporarily because he installed solar panels. (Until recently, PG&E’s new meters didn’t work with solar generation, but that’s now changing.)
“When they get the meters turned around, I will go back in a flash,” he vowed.
“It was almost a game to see how low I could get our energy usage during that period” when he was on SmartRate, Richardson recalled. “It significantly reduced my electric bill. I would routinely have $350 to $450 summer bills and I got down in the $200 range. I made sure we didn’t use appliances” during peak afternoon periods. “Like many people we had a fridge in the garage with a pack of beer. I got rid of the extra fridge I didn’t need, made sure lights were off and appliances I didn’t need weren’t operating. The program made me more energy aware for sure.”
PG&E’s experts estimate that on Monday alone SmartRate customers cut their usage by up to 30 megawatts. That’s an impressive step toward minimizing the cost and pollution from running extra generators on one of the season’s hottest afternoons.
Email Jonathan Marshall at Jonathan.Marshall@pge.com.