Schooling Demand Response in Texas Academia

By: Corina Solis, graduate of Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies

2014-training-yale-cropThe Alamo Colleges began participating in local utility company, CPS Energy’s Demand Response Program in the summer of 2013. This Demand Response Program is one of CPS Energy’s strategies to achieve its 2020 goal of saving 771 megawatts of energy. The Alamo Colleges participated in the program in order to take advantage of a significant rebate opportunity, which was a maximum of $120,600 in 2013 and is $130,650 in 2014. Rebates are based on the level of participation, and in 2013, the Alamo Colleges earned rebates totaling $103,000. Through a self-funding strategy, all of this money went back to the Alamo Colleges to pay for faculty and staff salaries.

As an extra benefit, while saving all of this money, the Alamo Colleges trim their carbon footprint each time they participate in demand response. Last year, the Alamo Colleges prevented 2,250 lbs. of CO2 from going into the atmosphere from its demand response participation. This year, the Alamo Colleges are contracted to prevent up to five and a half tons of CO2 from escaping into the atmosphere, which would otherwise take 140 tree seedlings ten years to naturally take out of the atmosphere.

Why Demand Response?

During hot summer months, electricity use reaches a peak, due primarily to high air conditioning use. On especially hot days, more power plants must be powered up on short notice to keep up with high levels of energy demand. This is costly, raising the electricity costs for everyone. If the demand is too high, even expensive energy generation won’t be able to produce enough electricity, leading to brownouts and blackouts. What’s more, the power plants powered up during this time are some of the dirtiest, running on fossil fuels like coal, which pollute the air we breathe.

The CPS Demand Response Program contracts commercial energy users to reduce their energy use during these peak periods instead of firing up more power plants and pays participants the money that would have gone to the peak power plants through rebates. The Alamo Colleges join Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, SAWS, Matheson-Trigas and Supa Doors, among other San Antonio businesses, by agreeing to reduce approximately 1,300 kilowatts during peak times—the equivalent of taking 650 houses off the electricity grid at once!

What is Demand Response?

The demand response season begins June 1st and lasts through September 30th. On any of these days, CPS can call a “Demand Response Event,” where participants are required to reduce their energy use by a pre-specified, contracted amount. The events will typically happen between 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m., but can start as early as 1 p.m. and last through 7 p.m. The Alamo Colleges are given two-hour advanced notice detailing the duration of the day’s event. CPS can call on the Alamo Colleges for a maximum amount of 25 times, totaling a maximum of 75 hours in one DR season.

When the Alamo Colleges receive the notification, each college must begin reducing the amount of energy it is using. The greatest energy user is the HVAC (air conditioning) system, which Facilities adjusts to use less energy. Facilities does NOT turn off the HVAC system to participate in demand response. Instead, the systems are throttled down to lower settings, reducing energy use.

The Alamo Colleges’ participation in CPS’ Demand Response Program protects the environment by avoiding the burning of fossil fuels that pollute our air and water. At the same time, the Alamo Colleges are not only racking up rebates, but also are using significantly less electricity when its price is highest. This is just one of the ways the Alamo Colleges are using their resources wisely to save money for quality education opportunities for each of their students, while protecting the environment.

How Students and Employees Can Help

During Demand Response Events, the cooling power of on-campus chillers at the Alamo Colleges is reduced, meaning it is easier for rooms and offices to warm up. If they notice the room warming, students and employees are asked to turn off unnecessary appliances (lab computers, unattended lights, overhead projectors, idling copy/printers) and minimize outdoor air infiltration by keeping doors closed as much as possible. All appliances produce heat that can make a difference over the course of a Demand Response Event. Additionally, employees are welcome to use desk fans and to take advantage of the Alamo Colleges’ summer casual dress to keep cool.

The system is still cooling during Demand Response Events, so rooms should never become unreasonably hot. But if the room temperature reaches an unsafe temperature, students and employees are asked to please contact Facilities right away.

This post originally appeared on our EDF Climate Corps blog.

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