Consumers Seek Efficiency in Use of Electricity

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Consumers today are more likely than ever to pay more attention to how and when they use energy. And they have more options to help slow, if not reverse, the rising costs of their utility bills, specialists say.

Advances in technology have made it more affordable for the commercial and residential markets to integrate solar power into their systems. Meanwhile, those industries and businesses that use significant amounts of power can benefit from various strategies that can have significant impact on their bottom lines.

“As energy prices go up, renewable energy looks more attractive,” says Erin Quinlan, owner of Valley Energy Solar in Salem. Her company provides engineering and grant writing services, site evaluation, and the installation of solar arrays. “We do just about everything,” she says.

Valley Energy Solar, in business a decade, entered the solar energy market six years ago.

Since then, interest in solar energy has risen substantially. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, by year-end the United States will have added 20,000 megawatts of solar power in 2015 and 2016, doubling the amount of energy capacity generated by solar.

The Solar Energy Industries Association was instrumental in lobbying successfully for an extension of the Solar Investment Tax Credit in the 2015 omnibus bill, which allows a 30% tax credit on commercial and residential installations. To date, the United States maintains 27.4 gigawatts generated from solar energy, or enough power to supply 5.4 million homes. By 2021, researchers project, solar systems will produce more than 100 gigawatts of power in the country, according to the SEIA.

During the second quarter of 2015, solar represented 40% of all new electrical capacity introduced to the market, the most of any single source, including natural gas, coal and wind.

“Clean energy is much more desirable and affordable than 10 years ago,” Quinlan says.

Several businesses in the Mahoning Valley have jumped into solar to better manage their utility costs, Quinlan says. “Right now, we’re doing a project at Western Reserve school” in Springfield Township. Across the state line in Pennsylvania, she says, a larger industrial concern is interested in using solar power.

“There’s been more interest in the commercial and industrial sector,” Quinlan says. “We’re also seeing communities – small and large – making it more affordable for residents.” Municipalities, she relates, are aligning with the private sector to build large arrays that will produce energy and lease it to users at a lower rate.

While Ohio isn’t on the same level of use as western states, solar power generation is more feasible than ever, Quinlan says. “We’re excited,” she states. “More people are becoming aware and it’s making its way to the East Coast.”

What’s evident is that alternative energy is forcing efficiency gains from the biggest suppliers and producers across the industry, says Carl Avers, president of Youngstown Thermal Co., which, in addition to supplying heat and cooling in downtown Youngstown, provides energy consulting services.

“I’m bringing building owners to the reality of deregulation,” Avers says.

Many of the power plants still in operation are old and inefficient, and replacing them will cost billions, Avers says. While these expenses are factored in to what is called the “cost of capacity,” much of the increase in electricity costs is driven by the demand on the electrical grid.

Ohio’s regional energy grid PJM – an abbreviation for Pennsylvania Jersey Maryland – serves a large portion of the United States, mostly east of Indiana, south of New York and north of South Carolina. PJM’s market also encompasses parts of northeastern Indiana, southwestern Michigan and Greater Chicago. In all, the grid serves 61 million people.

“Ohio Edison now delivers its power from PJM,” Avers says. “They’re our supplier and they have some very sophisticated programs that can save you money.”

Major industrial customers, for example, can reduce their costs through what is PJM’s Demand Response Program, Avers says. This encourages end-users to reduce consumption during peak demand periods.

Users are paid for scaling back their operations during the hottest days of the year, when energy use is at its highest.

“The more costly component is the demand you impose on the grid,” Avers says. “You lessen that, and it saves my customers money.”

For example, the most energy-intensive days are those above 91 degrees in the summer, Avers says. On average, the Mahoning Valley experiences about 10 per year. The program initiates notifications requesting that the operation take measures to reduce consumption.

This could mean an industrial customer voluntarily suspends or slows production temporarily to cut demand on the grid, Avers notes. However, participants in the program must meet certain requirements to qualify for payments when they reduce consumption.

“If they know a hot day is coming, they could plan to shift production earlier in the morning rather than the afternoon,” Avers says. Electric forklifts, for example, could be charged at night when the cost is three cents per kilowatt hour as opposed to 13 cents during the day.

PJM estimates that it will have reimbursed customers about $40 billion by 2020, Avers relates.

“If you can increase efficiency, that’s a big deal,” he says. “I’m coaching clients out there to focus on this.”

Cutline: Solar power in the United States generates 27.4 gigawatts, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association, enough to power 5.4 million homes.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.