Stable Warmth in Unstable Times

Cooperative energy planners predict an average winter season of demand response

Uncertainty has been the name of the game for much for 2020. But as we slip into the last few weeks of the year, North Star Electric Cooperative feels certain about one thing – your continued warmth and comfort throughout the winter.

The energy planners at Minnkota Power Cooperative (power provider for North Star) expect a standard season for members with electric heat on demand response. The voluntary program allows the cooperative to temporarily interrupt service to a member’s off-peak loads, like electric heating and large-capacity water heaters, in exchange for a lower electric rate. For technologies like air-source heat pumps and plenum heaters, the system automatically switches to a backup fuel source such as propane, so there is no break in comfort.

Todd Sailer, Minnkota senior manager of power supply and resource planning, says he expects the level of winter demand response to be comparable to the past 4-5 years – less than 100 hours. Members should always be prepared for up to 200-250 hours of management, but have historically encountered much less. Last winter, Minnkota only logged 10 hours of interruption due mild weather and low wholesale energy prices.

“The only things that are really going to drive that up are a shift in the energy market, which is typically going to be weather related,” Sailer explained. “If you get a polar vortex or a wind event where there’s simply no wind during high loads, that’s where that number suddenly goes from 70 to 250 hours really quick.”

Demand response doesn’t just happen during extreme cold. A planned generator outage or extended lack of intermittent resources across the region can push the program into action. “When we see there’s no wind in North Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and those areas where there’s often a lot of wind, that’s when we start to see high markets, and that’s when you’ll see more demand response.” Sailer said.

Although Minnkota expects a typical level of demand response this year, COVID-19 may change when it activates. When more people are working and learning from home, times of peak energy usage shift, which impacts the availability of excess resources to cover energy demand.

“Instead of demand response from 7-9 a.m., it might be from 8-11 a.m.,” Sailer said. “The load curve changes, so it might change how we actually implement our load management.”

North Star will run a demand response test sometime in early December. During that time, make sure your system is working properly and that you have adequate backup fuel before the coldest days arrive. If you are not a participant in the program but are interested in how to save money with an all-season air-source heat pump, a cost-effective plenum heater or zero-maintenance underfloor storage heat, call your energy experts at North Star.

The demand response program began as a way to manage power during peak seasonal need without building additional generation resources – a costly solution for only a few days a year. But the electric heating technologies that have evolved within the program are helping our members enhance their comfort and safety, things we could all use a little more of in 2020.

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