Electricity use falls because of efficiency

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By Elisa Wood

October 30, 2008

Electricity sales can gauge the national economic health. An ailing economy uses less electricity because is produces fewer goods and services. Sometimes, however, electricity sales fall for a good reason – efficiency.

Such is the case in the United States, according to a recent statistics released by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC). The organization annually assesses how well the grid is likely to perform over the next several years.

The 300-page report has a lot to say, but this headline jumped out at us: Demand Response Projected to Offset Nearly 80% of U.S. Peak Demand Growth in 2016; Significant Growth in Energy Efficiency Projected.

NERC forecasts that North America will offset 34,000 MW through demand response – a kind of efficiency program where customers are paid to reduce energy use when the grid is under strain. In addition, conventional energy efficiency programs are expected to cut electricity use by 11,000 MW. As a result, total electric demand will drop 3.3%, NERC said.

Demand response will become “a critical resource” to help us keep the lights on over the next ten years, according to the report. Our economy is becoming increasingly electrified, but we are unwilling to build more energy infrastructure. “Many coal plants have been deferred or cancelled, nuclear plants are becoming more and more expensive, and transmission lines increasingly difficult to site,” NERC said. Demand response will help bridge the gap between our electricity needs and our power resources.

Further, demand response is a good “dance partner” for wind energy, a resource that NERC forecasts will grow 750% by 2017. Wind farms offer a clean source of energy. But they only create electricity when the wind blows. Demand response can serve as wind’s partner during these times, reducing energy use to make up for the loss and averting a greater ramp-up of fossil fuel generators.

Our demand for electricity will still grow over the next several years, as our use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices increases — but not as much as we had thought. Last year, NERC forecasted a 17.7% growth in summer peak demand; this year it puts the figure at 16.6%. The organization attributes much of the change to efficiency. We’ve figured out how to do more with less, a good economic move.

Visit Elisa Wood at www.realenergywriters.com and pick up her free Energy Efficiency Markets podcast and newsletter.

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About Elisa Wood

Elisa Wood is the chief editor of MicrogridKnowledge.com. She has been writing about energy for more than three decades for top industry publications. Her work also has been picked up by CNN, the New York Times, Reuters, the Wall Street Journal Online and the Washington Post.