On June 2, in a historic move towards addressing CO2’s climate impacts, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released its Clean Power Plan proposed rule for regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants. The regulations encourage states to take advantage of a range of CO2-reducing methods, like energy efficiency and renewable energy, rather than requiring all emissions reductions to occur at the power plants themselves. Electricity consumers can play an important role in states’ plans to meet the regulations, if regulators can take advantage of all the resources they can provide. Fully utilizing consumers’ electrical resources may require the help of new market structures and business models.
The value that individuals, households, and businesses can provide to the electric grid could be quite significant. Technologies such as rooftop solar panels, “smart” thermostats, more efficient appliances, and electric vehicles, especially when combined with smart meters and other smart grid technologies, could enable consumers to reduce the demands on the grid at peak times and help absorb excess generation from renewable generation when demand is low. As CPI discusses in our Roadmap to a Low Carbon Electricity System, many factors are already conspiring to make these consumer-level resources more valuable and accessible.
Wise use of these so-called distributed energy resources could replace some of the fossil-fuel power plants that would otherwise be needed to balance a renewable-generation-heavy grid, creating cost-effective emissions reductions. They could even make the grid more resilient to future severe weather.