Simple ways you can help keep utilities from burning the dirtiest fossil fuels.
Sally Pick, SJP Environmental Consulting
This weekend’s heat wave is making headlines–it’s affecting two-thirds of the continental United States! High temperatures impact not only human health; they also change the way that the utilities generate electricity. To meet the unusually high spikes in “peak” electricity demand that last several hours during a heat wave, utilities turn on old “peaker plants” which burn the most polluting and most expensive fossil fuels, oil and coal.
These peak demand times account for only 10% of the hours of electricity used but are responsible for 40% of our electricity costs, according to the Green Energy Consumers Alliance. The fossil fuel peaker plants spew carbon emissions, contributing to global warming. They also exacerbate the more immediate health impacts of poor air quality that come with high temperatures, because of other pollutants that dirty fossil fuels generate.
Here are some ways you can help reduce peak electricity use during the hottest times of the day when commercial businesses and industry are still operating, and people come home, turn on their A/Cs and run a variety of appliances and electronics. Peak hours are typically between 3-8pm or so.
Strategies for lowering peak electricity demand:
- Take a dip in your favorite lake, stream or pool.
- Turn off light bulbs in rooms that you’re not using.
- Wash and dry your clothes before or after peak energy times, such as in the morning or later at night. Better yet, instead of drying them in your dryer, hang them on a clothes line. Dryers are big electricity users.
- Cool your home before peak energy use times and, during peak hours, increase the temperature setting of your air conditioner several degrees or turn it off and run fans.
- Cook the day before a peak energy day, eat leftovers, have a barbeque, or make a salad that doesn’t require cooking.
- Take a cold shower, or, as my neighbor does, a cold bath.
- Charge your electronics (e.g. computers, cell phones, tablets) at non-peak hours.
- Run your dishwasher during non-peak hours. It’ll feel cooler in your kitchen; plus, you’ll have an excuse not to do your dishes!
- Head to an air conditioned movie theater during peak hours. When you get home, turning on your A/C won’t contribute to the need to run a peaker plant.
- When you’re not using computers, TVs, or peripherals such as printers, routers, and DVDs, turn them off and unplug them or turn off the power strip that they’re plugged into. They draw electricity even when on standby.
- If you have an electric vehicle, charge it overnight after peak hours.
Want a reminder that it’s a peak use day? The Green Energy Consumers Alliance has a program called Shave the Peak. You can sign up for alerts here. When you sign up, you’ll get an email or text (you can give them your preference) telling you that it’s a peak energy day and letting you know when it’s most effective to lower your electricity use.
If you want to see actual, real-time electricity use on our New England electric grid, you can look at the system load graph. Toward the middle of the page is a chart showing the mix of fuels generating our electricity. On a peak energy day, you can watch for oil and coal sources joining the mix in late afternoon to see for yourself when peaker plants are added to our electric generation mix.