Earlier this month the journal Electricity Policy reported a regulatory victory for wind power owners: the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has decided that the Bonneville Power Administration cannot force wind producers to curtail production in favor of hydroelectric plants.

The new FERC order emphasizes that BPA, which operates in the Pacific Northwest, cannot discriminate against wind energy.

As SmartGridWatch reported earlier, the sad thing is that is that every day, precious renewable energy resources are discarded. Wind turbines get shut down, or water gets spilled over dams without turning turbines — while gas- and coal-fired plants in BPA’s Northwest region continue to run.

Part of the solution is to build more transmission lines to deliver wind power — which is usually in remote locations — to cities where electricity is consumed.

But there’s another, easier part of the solution: Smart meters and the smart grid can enable demand response and energy storage. This can give the grid more flexibility to manage fluctuating generation capacity, thus reducing waste of renewables.

Renewable “overproduction” situations usually occur at night, when wind is blowing and energy demand is low. Also, hydroelectric production is high in the late spring, when the snow has melted and filled reservoirs.

Electric water heaters — and, over time, electric vehicles — could help store “excess” energy off the grid at night in the form of heated water and charged EV batteries. People normally use hot water or drive cars more during the day; just when the grid generally experiences higher levels of demand.

Electric water heaters comprise up to 17% of total U.S. residential electricity use. According to Smartmeters.com, a report by the Peak Load Management Association estimates that 5.3 GW of power would be saved if just 25% of the 53 million U.S. electric water heaters were outfitted to communicate with smart meters and turn off during times of peak demand. This could save over consumers $420 million in power costs per year. Shifting water heater loads from peak to off-peak times reduces wholesale power prices — and that’s before considering the extra savings from not simply throwing away wind or hydro power.

Achieving this goal is not hard. It requires time-of-use rates — which research shows many consumers want. This would allow consumers to save money, and it also would encourage them to shift loads.

Widespread deployment of smart meters and smart appliance control also are crucial. Smart meters record and bill customers according to when energy is used. Also, simple timers or more complex home area network (HAN) communications can shift water heater use automatically — so consumers can “set and forget” it.

Time-of-use rates are gaining rapid acceptance by consumers. Over half a million residential customers in Arizona have such rates at Arizona Public Service and Salt River Project. Also, Ontario utilities such as Toronto Hydro are putting all of their residential customers on time-of-use rates. (Although we believe that voluntary TOU rates are probably a better option.)

With these tools, enlightened consumers could not only save money — they would be actively helping to promote increased production, use and efficiency of wind and other renewable energy resources. Meanwhile, they’d also be reducing carbon emissions and helping the environment.
Count me in.

Chris King is the Chief Regulatory Officer of eMeter, a California-based smart grid company recently aquired by Siemens. Before joining eMeter, King was CEO and founder of Utility.com, which provided electric, gas and telecommunications services nationwide.He joined Cree Edwards and Larsh Johnson at CellNet, where he served as Vice President-Regulatory Affairs and Vice President-Sales and Marketing. King has also directed various energy efficiency and time-of-use pricing programs at Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the largest utility in the United States. King holds a B.S. and an M.S. in Biological Sciences from Stanford University, an M.S. in Management from the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and a J.D. from Concord University School of Law.

Read Chris’ Smart Grid Watch Blog.