Saving energy can strengthen our electric grid

(ACEEE blog, 30 Oct 2018) Turning on a light switch is a simple act that masks a very complex system. That light is powered by the electric grid, the world’s largest machine, operating in real time.

We are growing more and more dependent on electricity, but we often take this incredible machine for granted—until the power goes out, as can happen with extreme weather events. Ensuring grid reliability and preventing interruptions requires balancing electricity supply and demand.

Today, in a new report, ACEEE shows that energy efficiency is often an effective but underutilized way to ensure such balance. It has clear reliability benefits, but those benefits are generally not adequately included and quantified in grid planning and decision-making. As a result, there are too few investments in efficiency measures, and higher grid costs as a result.

Reducing energy use in our homes, businesses, and factories lowers power demand on the grid, which can boost electric system reliability. It also saves money, and can be cheaper than alternative grid investments, such as new supply resources or transmission and distribution (T&D) infrastructure.   

Energy efficiency is a viable and valuable system resource—the “first fuel” of choice for its ability to offset electricity supply. Historically, much of the effort to improve grid reliability has been dedicated to ensuring that supply resources can meet the growing demand for electricity. However, industry leaders, regulators, and operators increasingly recognize that reliability depends on a mix of approaches, including energy efficiency. 

A dramatic example of this role occurred almost two decades ago, when California and other areas were threatened with extensive outages due to market supply problems. California officials and utilities greatly increased their customer energy efficiency and load management efforts. The result? Sufficient savings that literally kept the lights on.

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ACEEE blog, 30 Oct 2018: Saving energy can strengthen our electric grid