Learning About Load Control

DEC uses SCADA technology to help determine the best time to issue a load control alert.

Most DEC members are familiar with the Co-op’s Beat the Peak program. Since it began in 2008, Beat the Peak has saved members over $38 million by encouraging them to conserve energy during peak alert times when energy usage and energy costs are at their highest. But what members may not know is how those peak alert times are determined. At DEC, we manage them using a program called load control.

Load control works as a way for DEC to meet its demand without having to go out on the market to purchase energy during peak alert times, when the cost would be much higher. It achieves this by pinpointing times of the day when the most electricity is used, then minimizing it through a combination of member participation and system control. According to SCADA analyst Rick Kinnikin, “being able to remotely adjust the system during peak alert times is the key to load control’s success.”

“We have members who have volunteered to have their loads controlled,” Kinnikin says. “For example, farmers with poultry houses will allow DEC to turn on their generators during peak alert times so they are not running on our system. DEC also turns off electric irrigation systems. When people sign up to allow us to control these functions remotely, they get a billing credit or a reduced electric rate.”

While the Beat the Peak side of load management relies primarily on active member participation – not using major appliances during peak alerts, turning thermostats up by a couple of degrees in the summer, etc. – load control is about members agreeing to allow DEC to act on their behalf by temporarily adjusting their personal equipment and home systems. Kinnikin says his work in issuing the peak alerts can be a challenging balance to maintain: to call a peak alert time when conservation is most necessary to keep rates affordable, while not creating a major inconvenience for members.

“Picking the correct start and stop times is demanding,” Kinnikin says. “There is pressure to call an event early in the day and notify members as soon as possible. But sometimes the longer the wait, the more accurate the picture is of how a load control event is going to work. An event is usually 2 to 3 hours, and it is a difficult decision because you are affecting so many people and what they are trying to do.”

When issuing an alert, the most influential factor is weather, with most peaks occurring during the summer season.

“It’s all about the weather,” Kinnikin says. “Then it is all about determining if that weather is going to change – Is it going to rain? Is it going to be cloudy? All that affects what times load control will run or if it will run at all.”

Using SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) technology helps Kinnikin see the big picture in terms of the data he must review to initiate a peak alert. From comparing the peak times over several days or weeks to analyzing daily peak trajectories, SCADA provides the information necessary for Kinnikin to make the most effective call.

“SCADA is where the rubber meets the road,” Kinnikin says. “That is where you see the effects of everything. We are looking at the system hour ending average usage. That is what we get billed on. You can see if load is building, if the load curve is going up, or you can look at the data after an event to see what has been saved. I can compare data day-to-day and hour-to-hour. We see DEC system and substation loads through SCADA.”

It is through the use of programs such as load control that DEC continues to put our members’ interests at the forefront of what we do. By observing peak alert times and conserving as much electricity as possible while they are in effect, the Co-op works in partnership with our members to ensure the reliability and affordability of the power we provide.