Electric utilities and consumers are getting creative in their efforts to cut back electricity use as it spikes in response to an all-consuming heat wave that has spread across the country to settle across the heavily-populated Northeastern states.

Demand response programs, in which companies and consumers are asked to cut back on electricity use through established mechanisms like turning off extraneous lights or limiting elevator service, have already been in effect as the Northeast dealt with spiking power demand on July 21.

For more about the heat crisis in the New York area, read: New York Survives 4PM.

Many of those programs will stay in effect today as temperatures touch records across the region, though officials with transmission operators in the area say that as long as a large generation unit does not trip offline, the system should be able to handle the increased demand. The last time electricity use hit this level in the mid-Atlantic was in 2006, that region’s transmission grid market operator PJM Interconnection said today.

Hands Off

Demand response programs are often handled manually in their current form, with building managers turning off lights and shutting down elevators or limiting air conditioning use. Utilities and technology firms, though, say automation is the future of the demand response program, even as manual overrides remain in place.

Internet-connected smart air conditioners are at the core of a pair of research projects involving the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), a public benefit corporation promoting the state’s clean energy goals.

Smart air conditioners with internet connections have been installed at both the Pratt Institute and a co-op building on New York’s Upper West Side, allowing building managers to remotely view the output and remotely raise thermostats or even turn off the unit. In the case of the Pratt buildings, where the installation, subsidized by NYSERDA, is forecast to save the school $24,000 on power bills each summer, an override option exists if the rooms are occupied, but the override option isn’t in place at the co-op building, a NYSERDA spokesman said today.

“The project helps to save on power bills and also helps increase grid reliability,” NYSERDA said in detailing the project. “While the benefits seen in this limited operation are small, if the project was to be expanded in the future it could have a larger positive impact.”

Ice Age

Some companies have looked to the most traditional cooling device imaginable – ice – to solve the problem of today’s heat.

Technology firm SAP currently freezes roughly 3,000 tons of ice each night when power demand and prices are lower, then keeps that ice in 16 “giant” cooling tanks under its US headquarters in Pennsylvania. That ice chills the ventilation system’s air during the day, “passively” cooling the building, SAP says. The company says it saves 35% in electricity costs in the ongoing program.

Cool Data

Technology firms are grappling with the use of data streams to get extremely detailed and targeted weather indications that can, by being used on an extremely local basis, reduce overall strain on the grid through improved forecasting.

IBM says that with weather modeling capabilities like its “Deep Thunder” and new technologies such as the “Firestorm” supercomputer, the company can even model for wind patterns and determine whether or not they could potentially knock down power lines or even provide customized suggestions to consumers on ways to conserve energy.

“Additionally, with this level of detail, utilities could receive finer grid predictions and detailed data that would reduce response times to severe forecasts such as heat waves,” Allan Schurr, IBM Vice President, Strategy and Development, Energy and Utilities said in discussing the technology.