Energy efficiency and demand response can nearly level Southeast electricity demand for more than a decade

Blog | March 28, 2017 - 6:04 pm
By Steven Nadel , Executive Director

Electricity markets in the Southeast are facing many changes on the customer side of the meter.  In a new report released today, we look at how energy efficiency, photovoltaics (solar electricity), electric vehicles, heat pumps, and demand response (shifting loads from periods of high demand) might affect electricity needs in the Southeast. We find that if all of these resources are pursued on an accelerated basis, electricity demand in the region can be stabilized until about 2030. After that, demand will likely grow in the following decade because of increased market penetration of electric vehicles and heat pumps, but energy planners will have time to deal with this growth if these projections are borne out. We also find that energy efficiency and demand response can be vital for managing electricity supply and demand in the region and that these resources can help contain energy demand growth, reducing the impact of expensive new generation on consumer wallets.

National trends

This is the second ACEEE report looking at regional electricity demand. In 2016, we published a study on electricity consumption in New England, finding an even more pronounced effect. For New England, with even more aggressive pursuit of energy efficiency and these other resources, consumption was projected to decline through about 2030, before rebounding in the following decade.

These regional trends fit into a broader national pattern. In the United States, electricity consumption has been essentially flat for the past decade. Increased energy efficiency efforts have contributed to this lack of consumption growth, even as the US economy has grown since the Great Recession. Recently, the US Energy Information Administration (EIA – a branch of the US Department of Energy) released data on US electricity consumption in 2016, finding that 2016 consumption was 0.3% below 2015 consumption (see table 5.1 here).

Five scenarios for the Southeast

ACEEE’s new study focuses on the Southeast because it is very different from New England, with warmer weather, more economic growth, and less-aggressive energy efficiency and distributed energy policies than the Northeast. For the Southeast, we examined five scenarios: a business-as-usual scenario; two alternative scenarios with progressively higher levels of energy efficiency, photovoltaics, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and demand response; and two scenarios combining high numbers of electric vehicles and heat pumps with more modest levels of the other resources. This figure presents electricity demand for each of these scenarios:

Over the 2016-2040 period, we project that average annual growth will range from 0.1% to 1.0%, depending on the scenario, much slower than historic growth in the region. Energy efficiency is generally the biggest contributor to changes in projected 2040 electricity consumption relative to the business-as-usual scenario, as shown in the figure below, which presents our accelerated scenario that is based on levels of energy efficiency and other resources now targeted by leading states and utilities in the Southeast.

To date, Entergy Arkansas has achieved the annual efficiency savings as a percent of sales shown in the accelerated scenario and Progress Energy (a division of Duke Energy) has nearly achieved those savings in both North and South Carolina. Sixteen states outside the Southeast have also achieved these savings statewide.

The efficiency savings shown in the aggressive scenario have been proposed by the Arkansas PSC. This level of savings has already been achieved by Arizona as well as six other states. Likewise, the demand response savings we model have been achieved by more than 10 utilities, including four in the Southeast. The levels of photovoltaic, electric vehicle, and heat pump penetration are more speculative and are subject to significant uncertainty.

We also examined trends in summer and winter peak demand. Most utilities in the Southeast have historically had peak demand in the summer, but our analysis shows that winter peaks will be more likely in the region as photovoltaics and demand response reduce summer peaks and heat pumps increase winter peaks.

Why it’s vital to plan broadly

Our analysis illustrates the importance of incorporating energy efficiency, demand response, and photovoltaics into utility planning forecasts. Failing to include these resources leads to much higher forecasts, resulting in excess utility system investments, unnecessarily increasing customer electricity rates. Our analysis also illustrates the importance of including electric vehicles and heat pumps in long-term forecasts. While these technologies will have moderate impacts over the next 10 years, they could become increasingly important in the long run.

We are entering a dynamic period of substantial uncertainty for long-term electricity sales and system peaks. We need to carefully observe and analyze developments in energy efficiency, photovoltaics, electric vehicles, heat pumps, and demand response over the next few years. As these technologies advance, we can create policies to reduce energy bills, system costs, and harmful emissions, while growing the Southeast’s economy. Resource planners should be sure to incorporate these emerging trends and policies into their long-term forecasts and planning.