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Answering questions: Smart Grid and peak loads   

Tags: Avista Utilities, Answering Questions, Electricity, Rates, Smart Grid

Earlier this week I received an e-mail from an Avista customer named Steve who wanted to know about time of use rates. Coincidentally on Wednesday we had a similar question and answer published in e.view, an Avista employee publication. The info, provided here by Communications Manager Hugh Imhof is good stuff, so – here’s a Q and A about smart grid, peak power usage and time of use rates. 

Question: I have been hearing a lot about smart grid technology and how the utilities will have the ability to turn off appliances especially during times of peak power usage. How do I found out when Avista's peak power usage hours are in my area? Thank you!

Answer: Smart grid technology will mean a number of different things for the electric system. Mainly it is a way to provide automation, using two-way communications within the grid, in order to increase efficiency and reliability, thereby reducing the need for new generation resources.

There is technology involved that would allow customers to monitor and better understand their usage and adjust it for greater efficiency and a savings on their bill. If customers allow us to, the utility will also have the ability to send signals to the home to reduce demand during heavy load periods (extreme weather conditions for example). This could mean turning the thermostat up or down a couple of degrees, or turning off the water heater for a couple of hours… something along those lines. By doing this we reduce overall demand and don’t have to buy expensive power on the market.

Peak loads (when electric use is high) generally occur in the morning and evening hours, before and after normal work times. Loads are lowest in the middle of the night.

In some regions utilities have what is known as “time of use” rates. This allows customers to shift their heavy usage to times when the rates are lower, i.e. late at night when demand is low. This kind of rate structure exists in areas where there is a big differential in what the utility must pay to obtain power between high load and low load periods. This mainly applies where they use a lot of coal-fired generation.

Northwest utilities, like Avista, are mainly hydro based and even though market power prices may vary greatly, there is not a big difference in the cost of generating power at different times of day. Avista has enough of its own resources that we don’t usually need to purchase market power during low load times. Someday, as our mix of generation facilities changes we may have time of use metering. For now we do offer a lot of other ways customers can reduce their energy use. Check out for more. 

Post by Dan Kolbet
Posted by  System Account  on  11/12/2009
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