Energy Exchange

Moms Know What’s Best: How Time-of-Use Electricity Pricing can Benefit California Families

mcaf listenedCalifornia’s “big three” utilities, at the behest of state regulators, are in the process of examining and improving how they price electricity, including something called time-of-use (TOU) electricity pricing. This option – which rewards people who shift some of their electricity use to times of day when clean energy is abundant and electricity is cheaper – can help California families create safer communities while saving money on their utility bills. Mom’s Clean Air Force California mom Linda Hutchins-Knowles agrees, and recently wrote this opinion piece in the San Jose Mercury News encouraging others to adopt TOU.

Linda, like many moms, wears multiple hats. As a mother, she wants to help leave her children a safer, more sustainable word. As an advocate, she supports increasing our use of clean energy over dirty fossil fuels to help clean our air and environment as a whole. Finally, as a consumer, she wants to do these things without breaking the bank. Read More »

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3 Ways to Improve California’s Time-Of-Use Electricity Pilots

Jay Godwin photo - 07/31/2015 Location: The Mueller community in Austin, Texas. Caption: Mueller resident Dennis Nick is a Pecan Street program participant. He has solar collectors on his roof and an electric car in his garage. Information about his energy use can be accessed through mobile apps and on the web.California’s big three utilities – San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), and Southern California Edison (SCE) – serve approximately 80 percent of the state’s residential customers, which is why their recent move to update the state’s antiquated electricity pricing could be a game-changer for helping the state achieve its climate and clean energy goals.

In late December, while most people were on holiday, the utilities submitted plans to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to assess electricity prices that vary with the season and time of day. These plans detail the next two years of piloting time-of-use (TOU) pricing for most residential customers, and will help California reduce pollution and increase renewable energy production. Read More »

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Four Things California Should Consider before Rolling Out Time-of-Use Pricing

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This summer the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) ordered big changes in how Californians will pay for electricity. Starting in 2019, residential customers of the big three investor-owned utilities (Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric) will be switching residential customers to the same pricing plan used by commercial and industrial customers:  time-of-use (TOU) electricity pricing. This approach rewards people who shift some of their electricity use to times of the day when renewable energy is plentiful and electricity is cheaper. Before rolling this out to all 33 million Californians, however, the CPUC has instructed the utilities to perform experiments on how best to design and then market TOU pricing to customers. Read More »

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People-Powered Pricing: Nudging Illinois toward Time-of-Use Electricity Plans

TOU graphic KOThis week I submitted testimony in support of a petition by the Citizens Utility Board and, my shop, EDF, to urge the Illinois Commerce Commission to require Commonwealth Edison (ComEd) and Ameren, two of Illinois’ biggest utilities, to provide families and individuals with new ways to reduce their energy bills: electricity pricing based on the hour of the day. This “Time-of-Use” (TOU) option provides times of the day when electricity will be much cheaper than the all-day, “flat” electricity pricing currently used today. Such electricity rates would reward energy-efficient customers and those who shift electricity use away from “peak” hours—when demand is high, prices skyrocket, and power plants produce the most pollution.

Our petition to the Illinois Commerce Commission, which is in charge of regulating electric utilities in the state, asks for ComEd and Ameren to offer optional rate plans beginning 2016. With voluntary TOU electricity pricing, families with digital meters can enjoy lower electric bills by running certain appliances, like the dishwasher, when electricity is cheapest, such as early in the morning or late in the evenings. However, the benefits go far beyond households that participate. Cutting energy use at high-demand times, like the afternoon, lowers electricity prices for everyone, reduces stress on the power grid, and offsets the need for expensive, polluting power plants.   Read More »

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Momma Said ‘Time-of-Use’ Electricity Pricing

Map of polluting power plants in Los Angeles County. Many are located in or near the region’s most vulnerable communities that are already over-burdened by air pollution.

Map of polluting power plants in Los Angeles County. Many are located in or near the region’s most vulnerable communities that are already over-burdened by air pollution.

My mom is a pro at shopping for good deals. She taught me the importance of timing my purchases during the off-peak season to get the most value for my dollar.

Time-of-Use (TOU) electricity pricing reminds me of the lessons my mom taught me, and it can help empower families to take control of their energy use, while saving money AND improving air quality.

Like the name implies, TOU pricing allows customers to choose when to power-up large appliances (think laundry, dishwasher, A/C) in order to avoid using high-demand, “peak” energy – which is more polluting and expensive. It is a voluntary program with a proven track record.

Peak energy demand typically occurs late in the afternoon when everyone is coming home from school and work, running the A/C, charging phones, cooking, doing laundry, or streaming Netflix on a T.V. During this high-demand time, energy prices spike and electric utilities flip on expensive and dirty fossil fuel “peaking” power plants to meet energy demand (because nobody wants to lose power and heaven-forbid the Internet!). Read More »

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Cream Cheese And Time-Of-Use Electricity Pricing

This commentary was originally posted on EDF’s California Dream 2.0 blog.

“The cream cheese just fell off the roof of the car,” my 7-year old daughter said as I turned into my driveway after a trip to the grocery store. Right now you might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with time-of-use pricing?” Allow me to explain.

We live in Alameda, CA, where plastic bags are prohibited and stores must charge for a paper bag. Alas, I had forgotten to bring a reusable one. To teach my children a lesson and avoid the public scorn (not so much the $0.05 per bag), I carried our groceries and asked the kids to lend their hands. And yes, I put the cream cheese on the roof of the car to free a hand to unlock it.

Once home, I realized that, in addition to almost losing my cream cheese, I’d been making potentially risky tradeoffs. After all, exiting the supermarket with full hands prevented me from holding my children’s hands while crossing a busy – and dangerous – parking lot.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not lamenting the ban on plastic shopping bags. I think it makes perfect sense, but it takes time to start making the adjustment and the risk tradeoffs aren’t always obvious.

This scenario– making adjustments that may seem inconvenient and a bit scary, but are well worth the effort– plays out in other areas of life as well. Particularly in rethinking how Americans use and pay for electricity.

Source: Union Atlantic Electricity

Most of us don’t think about how the time of day affects the cost of serving us power. In California, we aim to change that by moving to Time-of-Use (TOU) pricing – which will make electricity more expensive during times of peak, or high, energy demand and cheaper off-peak. In fact, just yesterday, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) recommended moving all residential customers to time-of-use rates by 2018 in an effort to give customers more control over energy costs.

EDF believes that TOU pricing will be best for people and the environment, just as banning plastic shopping bags effectively reduces their environmental impact. This approach can encourage conservation and reduce peak energy use while providing customers with more choices that can ultimately lower their monthly bills. Switching to TOU electricity pricing may feel to some like being thrust into a busy parking lot with an armload of groceries and two children to monitor. When should I use my dishwasher? Do I need to reset my air conditioner? Well, yes and no. You can choose to do nothing, or you can exercise a choice you don’t have with our current pricing structure: shifting energy use to times of lower electricity prices. It’s quite doable.

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