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BY MIRANDA BOUTELLE

“Beat the peak” has become a unified energy efficiency message among electric cooperatives as electricity demand grows year after year. Your electric co-op must deliver around-the-clock electricity to power your life. To understand why it is so important for everyone to use less energy when there is high demand for electricity, known as “peak times,” it’s helpful to learn about the complex system that delivers electricity to your home.

Understanding the power grid

The U.S. power grid is often considered one of the largest machines in the world. Some could argue it is our country’s greatest achievement because reliable electricity has become essential to our daily lives and economy.

There are three main interconnected power grids: the Eastern Interconnection, the Western Interconnection and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. Each interconnection is powered by electric generation from various sources, including hydropower, nuclear, coal, gas, wind, solar and more. Some of these generation sources can supply power constantly or be ramped up or down depending on demand, while others supply intermittent power. 
The energy produced by these sources connects to the grid and moves along transmission lines that allow power to travel long distances.

Your electric co-op is known as a distribution utility, which operates the power infrastructure connecting transmission lines to the distribution power lines that bring electricity to your home.

Delivering reliable power

This entire electric system and the more than 2 million people who operate it are continually working behind the scenes so we can take advantage of a 24/7 supply of electricity at the flip of a switch.

Throughout the day, demand for power supply fluctuates. If supply and demand fall out of balance, local or widespread blackouts can occur. To maintain reliable power, especially during peak times, there must be enough power supply to equal demand.

Due to supply and demand, the cost to buy power is higher during peak times. Peak times vary across the country but are typically in the morning as we start our day and in the evening when we return home. This daily fluctuation, paired with growing residential demand for power nationwide, means it is important for everyone to take steps to use less energy every day. In turn, it will help you save on your monthly electric bill and support generation, transmission and distribution utilities in maintaining and protecting our grid.

Thoughtful energy use matters

To beat the peak, think about using less energy during peak times. Start with adjusting your thermostat, either up or down a few degrees, depending on the season. A smart thermostat can do this for you automatically.

Also, consider which appliances or devices you wait to run until after peak hours. For example, start the dishwasher or dryer before you go to bed. If you have an electric vehicle, program it to charge overnight instead of right when you return home in the evening.

By embracing energy conservation, we can all make small changes that have a big impact on our community and the intricate system that powers our lives. To learn more about your local peak times and how you can use less energy, contact your electric co-op.

Miranda Boutelle writes on energy efficiency topics for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 electric co-ops.

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