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Demand Response Deployed to Protect Consumers in Heatwaves

Aug 10, 2021

Guidehouse Insights

June 2021 was America's hottest June in 127 recorded years. In Portland, the intense heat caused asphalt roads to buckle. In Seattle, light rail transit had to be slowed or canceled because rails can expand and overhead power lines can sag at high temperatures. Communities, companies, and utilities alike have been desperately trying to mitigate the consequences of extreme heat and the resulting high energy demand, which includes energy price spikes and infrastructure damage. According to a study by FirstFuel (which has since been acquired by Uplight) referenced in a Utility Dive article, “higher cooling loads due to a heat wave can increase building energy consumption by 20%.” Unfortunately, extreme weather is also a threat to human health. A weeklong heat wave in Arizona led to the deaths of 53 people in a single county before the end of June, bringing the total number of the county’s heat-related deaths in 2021 to 73.

To mitigate some of these consequences, grid operators are turning to software-based virtual power plants and distributed energy resource management systems, such as Enbala's Concerto, Enel X’s JuiceNet, and Centrica’s Flexpond. During the recent summer heat, Enbala's platform has been dispatched about 100 times and Enel X’s has been dispatched 37 times

California Has Yet to See the Worst

Despite the extreme heat of this summer so far, California still isn’t in what is traditionally the hottest part of the year, which comes in August and September. An analysis by California Independent System Operator indicates that there is a 1 in 5 chance that demand will go above 47.7 GW again this summer and a 1 in 10 chance that it will reach around 51 GW. Grid operation tasks are also anticipated to be more difficult due to the current drought, which has led to lower levels of hydroelectric output. Wildfire season, which does not typically end until November, is an additional concern. 

A recent deal between OhmConnect and East Bay Clean Energy mobilized 150,000 consumers to reduce demand in the evening. OhmConnect is planning to give away 1 million smart thermostats to California customers, which will enable them to help balance the grid during heat waves as the summer progresses. 

California and other places across the US need to prepare for extreme weather events in the future by using programs such as demand response. Businesses and communities alike should explore resiliency solutions that can help them before irreversible damage occurs.