Energy efficiency standards credited with U.S. power grid’s heat wave performance 

Mark Clayton | The Christian Science Monitor | Jul 23, 2011: As temperatures soared across America, power grid operators and utilities called on all their energy sources – from jet-engine-powered natural-gas turbines to coal-burning behemoths to glowing nuclear reactors – to meet the electricity demand.

Right now, the massive mechanical equipment is doing its job well, with only pockets of energy distress during the heat wave.

Why are things going so smoothly?

A lot of it has to do with a weak economy that has left plenty of backup power available. The rapid growth of energy-efficiency measures is also responsible, as well as something called demand response – when commercial and industrial electricity users are throttled back by the use of computer-controlled switches and the Internet.

“We have definitely seen an impact from increased energy efficiency and demand-response efforts,” says Mark Lauby, vice president of reliability assessment and performance analysis for the North American Electric Reliability Corp. (NERC), an organization tasked with ensuring that the nation’s power grid keeps running. “It’s giving us more margin, more resources.”

The recession had an impact on energy demand, as businesses closed or cut back operations. Nationwide, energy demand fell about four percentage points in 2009, before rebounding slightly in 2010. The net result has been a chunk of generating-capacity padding.

In Wisconsin, for example, the recession led to factory closings that chopped power demand from a 2006 peak. Yet this year, We Energies – a utility near Madison – completed new plants that were built in response to power shortages experienced during heat waves of the late 1990s, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Result: plenty of capacity and few problems meeting power demand in Wisconsin. Read more

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