And Now I Only Use My Computer At 2AM

Thursday, July 3rd, 2008

Months ago I signed up for ComEd’s Residential Real-Time Pricing Program and promptly forgot about it. Then, a few weeks ago I noticed that ComEd somehow managed to install a new digital electric meter in my basement. I have no idea how they got in the building. They must have sent a ninja.

I’m cooler than my neighbors!

A few days later I got an e-mail informing me that I was officially in the real-time pricing program.

Electric companies generally charge people a fixed rate for how much electricity they use. I think it’s currently ¢8.67/kilowatt hour. You get charged that rate at 2 in the morning and at 2 in the afternoon, but the actual cost of electricity changes over the course of a day.

Our power infrastructure must be built to support peak power consumption.  This usually occurs in the middle of the day during the summer when everyone is running air conditioners and office buildings are chugging away.  The more power we consume at this time, the more power plants we need.  During the rest of the day, however, we only use a fraction of our power-generating capacity.

Imagine you share a hot water heater with 100 other people.  If everyone goes to take a shower at the same time, you’d need a huu-u-uge hot water heater to give everyone a warm shower.  If the showers were staggered throughout the day, however, you could get by with one that’s reasonably sized.

The Real-Time Pricing Program uses good old capitalism to encourage people to stagger their showers, figuratively speaking (unless you have an electric hot water heater — then it’s literal.)  Instead of being charged a flat rate for power, the price changes during the day.  It’s cheapest in the early morning and most expensive in the afternoon.  This encourages people to do laundry, wash dishes, and other high-powered tasks at night when electricity is cheaper.  We get lower electric bills and ComEd doesn’t get stressed out that The Grid is overtaxed.  Also, everyone gets popsicles.

The Center For Neighborhood Technology really takes advantage of real-time pricing by freezing ice-balls every night and then using them to cool the building during the day.

How prices fluctuated yesterday

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