Why does it matter what time of day you use power?

August 12, 2020 | 4 min read

Most people use electricity in different amounts throughout the day. Your home’s electric use will likely be lowest during the middle of the night, and you likely use more electricity in the morning and evening.

Due to these common patterns for many Vermonters, there will be certain times where the total electricity usage of your utility is highest. These "peaks" are the most expensive times to use electricity. Utilities must use costly electricity to supply power during peaks so that all customers have enough power. These times also strain the systems that deliver power – electric transmission and distribution infrastructure. If we avoid those peaks, we can avoid those expensive times and reduce costs for everyone.

There’s an environmental benefit too. Peak periods often occur when renewable energy isn’t available (for instance, in the evening), which means that fossil fuels are needed to supply these times. Load shifting allows you to maximize renewable energy generation instead. That reduces the need for fossil fuels and greenhouse gas emissions.

So how can you shift power? Let’s discuss a few methods and some other benefits they might bring.

Smart devices and home automation
  • You can program smart devices to run at off-peak times
  • Using electricity at off-peak times can save money for you and your utility
  • Check with your utility to see if they have programs you can take part in

If you have some smart devices in your home or business, you can program them to run in “off-peak” times. Certain devices, like wi-fi enabled hot water heaters, heat pumps, and appliances are easy to program and will have little impact your day-to-day routine. Some Vermont utilities already have programs to help encourage people to do this:

  • Washington Electric Coop (WEC) customers can access Project Powershift
  • Green Mountain Power (GMP) offers customers a variety of opportunities through controls for heat pumps and electric vehicles, including an opportunity to shift load and share the savings with the VT Food Bank
  • Burlington Electric Department (BED) works with customers to Defeat the Peak 
  • Vermont Electric Coop (VEC) helps their customers Beat the Peak and enrolls customers with electric vehicle chargers in their Energy Transformation program
  • Community-owned electric utilities like Barton Village, Village of Enosburg Falls, Hardwick Electric Department, Village of Jacksonville, Village of Johnson, Ludlow Electric Light Department, Lyndonville Electric Department, Morrisville Water & Light, Northfield Electric Department, Village of Orleans, and Swanton Village can be alerted to possible peaks by following the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (VPPSA) on Twitter and Facebook.

Even though you might not think individual appliances in your home make much difference, these small savings can add up over time and there is a collective impact. In businesses, the impact – and the potential for cost savings – can be even greater.

Time-of-use rates and demand charges
  • Help utilities reduce costs for everyone
  • Saves money in your home or business
  • Maximize your smart or programmable devices for energy and cost savings

Some utilities offer discounted rates for homes or businesses that help shift their energy use to off-peak hours. This creates a win-win for you and your utility. You save money when you use electricity during the cheapest times of day, and the utility can reduce costs by avoiding costly, carbon-intensive peaks. Some rates are specifically available for customers with an electric vehicle at home, like BED’s Residential EV Rate, and some are available for all households that have a smart meter.

If your utility has a “time-of-use” rate, the tools we’ve shared here will help you take advantage of the discount. Using smart or programmable devices or scheduling energy-intensive activities (like running the dishwasher or doing laundry) for off-peak times will help you save.

Some businesses are required to be on rates with “demand charges,” which add a fee based on the highest amount of electricity used during a billing period. (Think of it like the business’s individual peak.) Businesses can shift power – and reduce their demand charges – by investing in controls and business automation systems.

Home energy storage
  • Provide peace of mind during power outages
  • Use with or without solar panels
  • Smart technology stores and deploys power to flatten peaks

If you live in an area with power outages, you know the benefits of having backup power. Many homeowners and businesses have relied on propane and diesel generators to keep the lights on when the power goes out. Now, more homes and businesses are turning to newer battery storage options. Home batteries work with or without onsite renewables, such as solar panels, to store excess electricity in the home.

Besides providing electricity during power outages, batteries can also be useful to your utility to shift load. When your utility forecasts a peak, they could pull stored electricity from your battery rather than drawing from the grid. If enough homes and businesses do this, the utility could avoid a peak, saving money for everyone.

GMP customers can access two programs to help you get the most out of installing a battery system in your home. In their Resilient Home program, two Tesla Powerwall batteries serve as backup and make your home more energy efficient. You can also “Bring Your Own Device” to install your own battery through an independent company. You’ll be eligible for compensation from GMP for the benefits your battery provides.

Take control of when you use electricity

So why does it matter when you use electricity? Peak utility times – the times when everyone is using the most power – are the most expensive, and polluting, times to use power. Reducing your electric use during those times will help everyone save money and reduce emissions.

Luckily, there is a lot of smart tech that can help give you control over when you use power. Start out by talking to your utility about programs and rates, then look into smart devices or home energy storage to help make your home a good citizen of the grid.