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Coming soon: Peak pricing.

Byline: The Register-Guard

A vexing problem faced by electric utilities is that people use more electricity in the morning and evening than they do at noon or at night, and even more during hot spells Noun 1. hot spell - a spell of hot weather
while, spell, patch, piece - a period of indeterminate length (usually short) marked by some action or condition; "he was here for a little while"; "I need to rest for a piece"; "a spell of good weather"; "a patch of bad
 and cold snaps cold snap

a short period of cold and frosty weather

Noun 1. cold snap - a spell of cold weather
cold spell
. The entire electrical system must be sized to meet peak demand - which means it's oversized o·ver·size  
1. A size that is larger than usual.

2. An oversize article or object.

adj. o·ver·size also o·ver·sized
Larger in size than usual or necessary.
 most of the time, with a lot of expensive capacity sitting idle. Solutions to this problem are being tested, and one day soon the cost of power is likely to depend on when it's used.

Utilities long have talked about demand management, peak shaving and load shifting. The idea is to flatten flatten - To remove structural information, especially to filter something with an implicit tree structure into a simple sequence of leaves; also tends to imply mapping to flat ASCII. "This code flattens an expression with parentheses into an equivalent canonical form."  the jagged line on the graph of electricity demand. It can be done by getting people to use less power during periods of peak demand - running the dishwasher late at night, for instance, rather than just after dinner. Such behavior can be encouraged by charging a premium price for peak power, and by providing a discount for off-peak demand.

Northwest utilities have been cushioned against the problem of variable demand by their reliance on a system of variable supply - the region's hydroelectric dams. Water is stored behind dams during periods of low demand and spilled to supply peak power. But the hydropower hy·dro·pow·er  
Hydroelectric power.
 system's cushioning effect is wearing thin as demand grows and as intermittent energy sources such as wind and solar power are integrated into the electric system. The addition of a big new load on the electrical system, such as a fleet of plug-in hybrid cars hybrid car, hybrid vehicle hybrid nHybridfahrzeug nt or -auto nt , would bring the problem of variable demand to the forefront.

Portland General Electric This article is not to be confused with PG&E, a San Francisco, California-based utility company
Portland General Electric (PGE) (NYSE: POR) is an electrical utility, formerly owned by the Houston-based Enron Corporation (but now independent), that distributes electricity to
, which serves the Portland metropolitan area The Portland-Vancouver, Oregon-Washington, Metropolitan Statistical Area, also known as the Portland metropolitan area or Greater Portland, is an urban area in the U.S. states of Oregon and Washington centered around the city of Portland, Oregon. , already is facing the problem. Since the closure of the Trojan nuclear plant in 1993, its power plants and contracts supply only 80 percent of its customers' demands; the rest must be purchased on the spot market. PGE's spot market purchases spike during the hottest and coldest days of the year, when the utility's average demand of 2,500 megawatts grows to 4,000 megawatts.

Last week, the state Public Utility Commission approved a PGE PGE Pacific Gas and Electric Company
PGE Portland General Electric
PGE Prostaglandin E
PGE Platinum Group Elements
PGE Pacific Great Eastern (Railroad)
PGE Phenyl Glycidyl Ether
PGE Perfect Girl Evolution
 pilot project to test variable electric rates. Customers who agree to participate will pay 4.5 times the normal rate for electricity during the 40 hottest hours of summer and the coldest 40 hours of winter. In exchange, they'll pay a discounted rate at other times. Some participants also will agree to let PGE set their thermostats by remote control, within temperature parameters chosen by the customers.

Puget Sound Energy Puget Sound Energy (PSE) is an energy company providing electrical power and natural gas in the Puget Sound region of the northwest United States. It serves electrical power to over 1 million customers in Island, Jefferson, King, Kitsap, Kittitas, Pierce, Skagit, Thurston, and  in Washington state tried a different type of voluntary peak-pricing program in 2001. It set power prices for participating customers at 6.25 cents per kilowatt hour Kil´o`watt` hour

1. (Elec.) A unit of work or energy equal to that done by one kilowatt acting for one hour; - approximately equal to 1.34 horse-power hour.

Noun 1.
 during the morning and evening hours, charged a lower rate in midday, and a still lower rate of 4.7 cents at night. The utility found that customers shifted 13 percent of their power usage out of the higher-priced periods and slightly reduced their electricity consumption overall.

The utility dropped the program when spot power prices moderated.

Electric meters that can track consumption by the hour or the minute are the key to both these variable power-pricing programs. Puget Sound Energy installed meters that transmitted readings 30 times an hour. PGE will complete its conversion to smart meters by the end of next year.

Some types of time-of-day pricing can be implemented without smart meters - timers on water heaters, for instance, can shift part of a household's power load to low-demand hours. But meters that send information in two directions - devices that tell utilities how much power is being consumed and consumers how much it costs - promise to become the standard. Such meters would be essential to an electrical system that relies on intermittent sources of power, such as wind, and serves customers who can choose when they will use power for such purposes as recharging a car battery.

A simple version would be a meter with a green light that comes on when lower-priced power is available. More sophisticated systems could inform power users of several pricing levels, allowing them to avoid electric consumption during periods of peak demand and take advantage of bargain rates when demand slackens.

Programs such as PGE's are just the beginning. One day, the size of people's power People's Power (Portuguese: Poder Popular) is a common political rallying cry used in party names and slogans.

Instances of its use include:
  • People's Power (Colombia), a political party in Colombia
 bills will depend not just on how much electricity they use, but when they use it.
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Title Annotation:Editorials and Letters
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Sep 28, 2009
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