Load shifting: The measures that can save energy and carbon together

May 14, 2020 by Jeannette LeZaks

In Minnesota—one of many states pursuing an aggressive set of climate goals—50% of statewide electricity production is estimated to come from wind and solar by 2035. At the same time, traditional efficiency measures are reaching saturation in the market. If we are to successfully shift to a clean-energy grid that still meets our energy demands, it isn’t enough to change how we create our energy; we need to shift when we use our energy as well.

One solution is called load shifting—the ability to move electricity consumption from one time period to another. However, energy efficiency frameworks often overlook the overlap between efficiency and load shifting. Stakeholders also broadly lack geographically specific information on the value of load shifting.

To help address these issues, Slipstream analyzed the emissions, cost, and energy impact of load shifting measures in Minnesota. All in all, our study found that the right application of load shifting measures could save up to 34% in costs and up to 19% in emissions—putting us closer on the path toward a clean energy future.

What are load shifting measures?

Funded by the Minnesota Department of Commerce’s Conservation Applied Research and Development program, our study modeled fourteen measures against current and future year hourly costs and emissions. The measures were categorized as one of three types:

  • Regularly-occurring shift: shifts energy use each day from one period of the day to a different period of the day 
  • Event-based measure: shifts load on a select number of days, typically when demand is high and utilities are near capacity  
  • Energy efficiency measure: serves as a comparison for the purpose of the study, and has no load shifting impact

Cost savings and emissions impacts

It should be noted that energy efficiency measures continue to dominate the overall savings potential of both energy costs and emissions. However, measures that shift load can have a significant impact on cost and emissions.

As noted earlier, we found that a mix of both regularly-occurring shift and event-based measures can generate both cost and emission savings. Furthermore, measures that use more energy annually are able to save money through strategic shifting of energy use away from high-cost periods.

The impact on cost and emissions savings is relatively stable across time. In our model, regularly-occurring shifts did witness a decrease in cost savings in future years, largely due to an increase of renewable energy on the grid. (This would have the likely effect of lower prices in the middle of the day.) However, the time of the shift is adaptable and could be adjusted to respond to future price or emission profiles.

The Takeaway

Our analysis led to several recommendations that other states could adopt to use load shifting measures in their own efficiency portfolios:

  • Pursue load shifting measures that save energy. Some emerging technologies are designed as load shifting measures, but they also generate electricity savings across the year.
  • Design rates to provide incentive for load shifting. A smarter, more deliberate rate design directly influences customers to shift or shed energy use, particularly during high-demand periods.
  • Analyze new measures for load shifting benefits. Though this study looked at many load shifting measures, there are plenty of other interventions that show potential for reducing both emissions and use. We need future research to look at all the ways that load shifting can make an impact in both energy efficiency and decarbonization.

Read the full report (or view our webinar)

For additional recommendations and more detailed results, download the full report or view a recording of our webinar here as part of our full catalog of educational videos.