People Subservient to Electricity?

Did you see that article “Power Prices Go Negative in Germany,” in the Christmas Day edition of the New York Times? You might have been busy that day. Then you missed a stocking stuffer.

Times reporter Stanley Reed wrote that negative prices are an occasional byproduct of the two hundred billion dollars Germany has spent to transform its electricity system. On the day before Christmas, as Santa was readying his reindeer, prices fell to minus sixty dollars per megawatt-hour. That’s what consumers were paid to use electricity that hour.

Wind power was strong at that time. Consumer demand was weak.  

“Negative prices indicate that Germany’s power grid, like most others around the world, has not yet adapted to the increasing amounts of renewable energy being produced,” the article reported.

“… But regulatory tweaks could make a difference. Germany, for example, does not do enough to encourage customers to increase their use at times of oversupply.

… That could be as simple as providing incentives for people to turn on the washing machine when power is plentiful, and cheap. Companies could … [ramp] up energy-hungry tasks …”

This got us thinking. Imagine a future in which, when power prices go negative, households are encouraged to pull out all the stops to use electricity.  

They might not shut the refrigerator door as a needless bother. They might run a bunch of hair dryers to warm a room. They might buy a few big screen televisions and leave them on all the whole time.

And businesses might urge their employees to operate all their equipment to the max, to boost profits.

Crazy? Sure. But we better figure out how the electricity system of the future can be both clean and subservient to people. Producing power when it’s needed and wanted. As opposed to people being subservient to the electricity system. Producing power randomly.

For ninety years, since 1928, Public Utilities Fortnightly has served as the platform for thought leaders to impact the debate in utility regulation and policy. Join the debate. Have your organization join the debate, as a member of the PUF community.  

Steve Mitnick, Editor-in-Chief, Public Utilities Fortnightly
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