The independent system operator and largest controller of the power grid for 19.75 million people in the state of New York, NYISO,wavered last week about whether or not to call a demand response event in NYC based on bitterly cold winter the east coast is experiencing.
Demand response events are called in order to change behavior during periods of extreme weather when businesses and residences tend to use more energy. Drastically cold temperatures such as the ones we have seen in New York this year trigger electric heating demand which in turn can cause energy prices to increase quite violently, or in extreme cases, possible blackouts. In order to meet this temporary spike in demand a utility will often activate a “peak day” power plant that will make electricity in real time to relive demand on the system. Once activated these small power plants temporarily solve the demand issue but are expensive to operate and add pollutants to the air through the fossil fuels they burn. This inefficient use of energy perpetuates the cycle of harmful environmental effects and wasting consumer money If enough users participate in the demand response event the utility will avoid turning on the ancillary power plants. This allows electric users within New York to reduce their consumption and lower bills while saving the strain on the utility grid at the same time.
Think of your house as a miniature version of the power grid with the fuse box switches representing different zones that might “black out” if there is too much demand. On this particular night you are running a hair dryer in the bathroom and a space heater in the bedroom next door. When the the hair dryer is turned on,… POP! The breaker blows taking out all the lights etc. that operate on the same circuit in both rooms. In order to prevent the breaker from blowing you must change your behavior and turn off the space heater (since you aren’t using it) and then use the hair dryer. Demand response acts in a similar fashion by asking larger users of energy to curtail their usage during periods of peak demand. By curtailing their usage the participants are compensated for the energy they return to the grid.
What is important to note (for those that participate in the NYISO program) is that even though the NYISO wavered in its decision to enact the event from 5-9 pm as originally prescribed, they still have the right to call the event up to 2 hours prior to a designated window which can send administrators of the program into a tailspin trying to balance the whims of the ISO and the expectations of clients participating.
As a suggestion to those that participate it would be best to ALWAYS have a plan that you can put in place on short notice. Not only for the reliability of our grid but if participation is limited and the need for curtailment is high you could reap increased financial benefits.