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Directly Controlling the Winter Peak

Learning lessons from PSE’s residential demand response pilot.

Fortnightly Magazine - August 2012

learned is that winter-peaking utilities should carefully consider promoting the installation of heat pumps in their service territory.

In jurisdictions with a high penetration of electric heating, heat pumps are frequently promoted as a conservation measure, with heat pump uptake sometimes incented by the local conservation authority or utility. While heat pumps can deliver significant energy savings in—particularly in milder climates—the PSE pilot has demonstrated that heat pumps can actually increase a household’s winter peak demand when installed in regions where winter temperatures can be expected to drop below freezing on at least some winter mornings. Put another way, in colder climes, the implicit trade-off offered by a heat pump is a reduction in winter energy consumption for an increase in winter peak demand.

The final lesson for winter-peaking utilities is that any prospective direct load control program targeting baseboards should be very carefully planned, with a firm set of protocols to be followed by installers. If participant objections or the construction of the home mean that control device installers will need to deviate from the established protocols, then the device shouldn’t be installed. Perhaps the most important installation protocol that should be adhered to is the requirement that all baseboards in the home be connected.

Innovative and forward-looking summer-peaking utilities and conservation authorities have made great strides in incorporating residential demand response as part of their reliability resources, in some cases recruiting more than 100,000 participants. If deployed thoughtfully and run well, residential demand response can be a very cost-effective reliability resource and one that winter-peaking utilities should consider expanding. The PSE residential DR pilot has added considerably to the overall understanding of the impacts of winter direct load control. Further testing, however, is required to determine the most cost-efficient manner in which to deploy baseboard heating direct load control, such that it produces meaningful demand impacts. Additional experimental pilot programs could provide important information to guide the development of larger-scale residential direct load control programs and ultimately provide winter-peaking utilities with the same cost-effective reliability resource as is currently enjoyed by their summer-peaking counterparts.



1. See for example: Deemed Savings Estimates for Legacy Air Conditioning and Water Heating Direct Load Control Programs in PJM Region , March 2007, RLW Analytics, prepared for Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and the PJM Load Analysis Subcommittee, or Ericson, T., “ Direct Load Control of Residential Water Heaters ,” Energy Policy , Sept. 2009, pp. 3502 to 3512.

2. Impacts were evaluated by Navigant directly, process elements of the program were evaluated by Energy Market Innovations (EMI,, sub-contracted by Navigant. See “ 2011 EM&V Report for PSE Residential Demand Response Pilot Program ,” Navigant Consulting with EMI Consulting, Feb. 6, 2012.

3. Water heater and heat pump participants also were subject to a number of curtailment events.

4. An adaptive algorithm offers more significant demand reductions than simple cycling by using information regarding the controlled device’s pattern of use.

5. The fact that the data available was whole-home data rather than logger data, and that very few participants had only their