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Study Urges New Approach to Energy Planning

April 12, 2024
An electric vehicle charger on the UC Merced campus is shown.
The study advocates adding power loads during the day, when solar is available.

The world of energy is changing so quickly that the processes used for planning can’t keep up.

UC Merced electrical engineering Professor Sarah Kurtz took part in a study that showed how swiftly the needs and resources for electricity are shifting. The study, “How Demand-Side Management Can Shape Electricity Generation Capacity Planning,” was published last week.

It makes sense that when we plan for how much electricity we will need to generate in the coming years, the first thing we do is look at how much we needed in the past year. But given that the systems we install today could operate for more than 30 years, it’s also important to try to predict how the demand for electricity will evolve during that time, Kurtz said.

The rapid addition of electric vehicles, heat pumps and data centers are changing the demands on electricity at a fast clip. And that, the researchers point out, makes it important to rethink how and when electricity is used.

Today many utilities offer the lowest electricity rate at night when many people are asleep, so electric vehicle owners often program their home chargers to start at midnight. But most of the power available at night comes from fossil fuels, which means EV charging perpetuates the need to continue fossil-fuel electricity generation. If power loads are added during the daytime, solar is available, increasing the demand for solar electricity.

The best plan is to add loads during the day, the study indicates.

The researchers said they hope that those selecting which electricity generators to build will consider the new loads rather than designing tomorrow’s grid to look like today’s: run mostly by natural gas and coal.

Patty Guerra

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