A Good Grid is Like a Good Vacation: Balanced and Well-Timed

photo-1456425712190-0dd8c2b00156On vacation and awake in my too-soft bed at 5 AM while my family snored, I was regretting my misaligned sleep schedule. But then I realized time was on my side, so I tiptoed out in solitude for sunrise at the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Thanks to my very clever smart phone that is also a camera, my amateur photos (sort of) reveal the majesty of this national landmark. When we realize the schedule of Nature’s wonders is both beautiful and indefatigable, and humble ourselves with simple acts of realignment, harmony can be found amidst the springs and cliffs of our lives.

Just as timing helped me take advantage of something I would have otherwise missed and my smart phone aided in capturing the moment, similar lessons can be learned in how we use energy. My phone, when linked to a smart thermostat, can help align my electricity use with cheap, clean energy resources like solar and wind. Soon residential customers of California’s “big three” utilities, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SoCal Ed), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), will be able to take full advantage of this option. 

TOU Pricing in California

Under the direction of the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), these utilities are studying time-of-use (TOU) electricity rates, which reward customers who voluntarily shift some of their electricity use to times when renewable energy is abundant and away from times when there is a lot of stress on the electric grid. This model better reflects the true cost of electricity, which ebbs and flows with fluctuations in demand. All customers will be billed this way beginning in 2019, with an option to opt-out if they prefer the old rate structure.

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TOU pricing is an empowering electricity pricing method that, when paired with other clean energy resources can bridge the clean energy divide and transition to an electric system that is smarter, cleaner, and more reliable. What’s more, with new data showing how often people think about their energy bills, there is a huge opportunity to meaningfully engage customers in the process.

Education and outreach is a critical route

Recent evidence indicates that these new opportunities are on the minds of energy users like you and me. A recent report by E Source explores time spent “thinking about and studying issues regarding your home’s energy use.” They found the average amount of time was 5.5 hours per year, and over half of the survey respondents said they spend at least four hours thinking about their energy bills each year. This is an enormous opportunity for education and action.

If people are already spending time thinking about their energy use, the more they learn about how and when they use electricity, the more likely they are to take steps that can help them control costs – like responding to TOU pricing. Ultimately, this can save people money and prevent harmful pollution by shifting energy demand, thus avoiding the need to fire up dirtier power plants.

Over half of the survey respondents said they spend at least four hours thinking about their energy bills each year. This is an enormous opportunity for education and action.

Still work to be done

But dawn has not yet arrived, and a massive chasm of customer awareness and actionable opportunities still persists. Fortunately, not unlike the cleaver and stout folks who braved the Grand Canyon’s edge and the icy waters of the Colorado River, brave and resilient innovators have begun to cross the great energy expanse. Even if it is scary to stand at the edge of a clean energy landscape that, depending on your position, appears as a steep cliff to climb or fall down, this change is happening. What’s more, entrepreneurs like those at Ohm Connect and Solar City are constantly and reliably making it easier for people to use clean energy with smart thermostats, better access to energy usage data, and self-generation like rooftop solar.

As the E Source study suggests, we have people’s attention. In California, and increasingly around the world, customers have options for TOU electricity pricing – a key currency to reward customer action. These two developments, paired with other clean energy solutions like energy storage and electric vehicles, make for exciting times during which timing will mean everything. I’m glad to be awake for it.

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  1. James Fine
    Posted April 18, 2016 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    Check out my latest blog inspired by a trip to the Grand Canyon.

  2. Bob Meinetz
    Posted April 25, 2016 at 6:45 pm | Permalink

    Jamie, what exactly is “empowering” about a policy which penalizes customers who need to use electricity on their schedule, not that of their utility (like single mothers working two jobs) and have to pay more to do so?

    I know it might be hard to understand, but there are people who need to get out of bed at 5AM to make ends meet.