Buildings Energy & Emissions Resources

Local Demand Response Program Cuts Carbon & Saves Money

Demand Response 101: Understanding How Utilities Balance Energy Supply & Demand

How does Demand Response work?

During the hottest days of summer, residents and businesses simultaneously use more energy than usual to cool their buildings, which puts stress on the electric grid. To ensure adequate electricity is available, specialize power plants called “peaker plants” are brought online when the grid approaches maximum capacity. Peaker plants are carbon intensive and expensive to build and operate. The extra electricity from peaker plants is much more expensive than the electricity that is delivered to the grid on a regular basis. “Demand response” is a simple strategy that utility providers are increasingly using to balance the needs of the grid at peak moments of use.

Expanding this strategy is made possible by increased adoption of building automation and smart thermostats within commercial, industrial and residential settings. Demand response offers a win-win-win solution: utility providers and their customers save money by avoiding the need for peaker plants, participants save money, and less carbon is put into the atmosphere. In addition, this strategy can postpone or eliminate the need to expand more permanent energy infrastructure, like coal or gas fired power plants.

What does it mean for residents who participate?

Utility companies are able to anticipate peak events (or an “Energy Rush Hour“) by analyzing historic data and current weather forecasts. Typically, customers who have signed up for the program receive a notification in the morning alerting them about the anticipated Rush Hour. For automated programs, the smart thermostat pre-cools the building to a comfortable temperature right before the event. During the event, the air conditioner will turn off, or may cycle on less frequently. Spread across enough accounts, these small adjustments are enough to meet demand across the service area.

Rush Hour events typically happen on summer afternoons as air conditioners run continuously to beat the heat, and they last a couple of hours. In normal times, when many people are at work during the week, participants wouldn’t even notice the shift and their home would still be cool when they arrive in the evening. During the COVID pandemic, when more people are at home during the day, it may be more noticeable, but participants can easily override the rush hour settings if they become uncomfortable.

How to enroll?

Ameren Missouri customers can participate in Ameren’s Peak Time Savings program to make money and support the local demand response strategy for meeting electricity needs on the hottest days of the summer. You get $50 for signing up and $25 each year you participate. All you need is a qualifying smart thermostat and 5 minutes to register!

Don’t have a smart thermostat? Ameren has an incentive program for that too! Ameren offers $50 rebates and free shipping on Emerson Sensi, Nest, and Ecobee brands. Installation is easy, making this a great DIY project.

Programmable thermostats (smart or not) are an easy way to significantly save on energy. Especially with the rebates taken into consideration, you will quickly recoup your investment through a reduction on your electricity bill. Simply set the thermostat for less heating or cooling while you are asleep or away, only using what you need when you need it. Just a few degrees less cold in the summer or warm in the winter results in both cost savings and fewer carbon emissions!