A term that is getting thrown around a lot as the nation faces a changing energy market is “demand.” So, when we talk about electricity, what is “demand?”
The short answer is that demand is the maximum amount of electricity that passes through your meter at one time during a billing period. This demand is measured in kilowatts (kW). Electricity is flowing constantly to supply power to your homes and businesses. The more electricity you are using at any moment the higher the demand. For example, if you plug in your electric vehicle to charge at the same time you run your dryer, cook a meal on your electric range, and your electric water heater kicks on, you’ll be setting a much higher demand at that point than if you spread out the usage of those power-intensive appliances. As more electric appliances and other life necessities are added to households, demand is increasing. Each electric appliance usually accounts for 4-5 kW worth of demand, but when they are all running at the same time your demand will increase cumulatively. Three electric appliances running at the same time could set your demand at 12-15 kW.
One way to alleviate this max demand is by staggering the usage of these high demand appliances and not running them all at the same time. When we talk with members about their electric service or a new service, expected demand is a key component to consider for the sizing of that electric service. We need to build their service to withstand the maximum potential demand that member could put on the system. A lot goes into determining how to best serve a member, and knowing how much demand they expect to generate lets us know what size transformer they will need at their location and if our lines in the area are sufficient for the load.
Most members haven’t been exposed to the concept of electric demand because they aren’t charged for it. Only a few of our very large power users have a demand charge associated with their bill. However, roughly half of the power bill that Clay Electric Co-operative pays is a demand charge. Southern Illinois Power Cooperative (SIPC), our power provider, bills for the kilowatts we provide directly to our members and assesses a fee based on the highest demand our system recorded during a billing period. This is why electric demand is getting so much attention right now. With the cost of power rising, we are looking for ways to save money where we can in order to keep our rates as low as possible. In the same way that running three space heaters at once increases the demand at your home, all the members using power on each of our substations adds to a demand reading that SIPC uses to bill us.
When you look at all the power being used simultaneously across all our substations, you are seeing our whole system demand. SIPC monitors demand not just for billing but to account for the needs of seven member cooperatives. SIPC, as our generation and transmission cooperative (G&T), is responsible for meeting the power needs of all its members just as we are responsible to all of you. When you look at it all together you can see how much of a toll on the electric grid something like an extreme weather event can have. Think back a few years to the polar vortex and how Texas’ grid failed. There were too many people generating an abnormally high demand on the system, and it couldn’t keep up. Clay Electric Co-operative and other utilities are constantly making upgrades to infrastructure to account for the demand and energy needs of members.
In the next few months, we will be adding a demand line on our members’ bills so they will be able to see their demand. To be clear, we are not making any changes to our rates at this time. This line item will be purely informational. We will not be billing this line item; it will simply be there so our members can view it. As we are able to get more information to our membership on our bills, we will keep you informed both in this magazine and through other media. Keep an eye out in coming months for more information on what goes into your bill and what your cooperative is doing to adapt to the evolving energy sector. And, while you’re keeping an eye out, don’t forget to be on the lookout for your member number in the center section of this magazine. There are three member numbers hidden in Clay Electric News. If you find your number and give us a call, you win $5 off your next bill!