We need not be left in the dark

A range of options exists to maximize the supply of electricity.

The hot weather electricity outages we are experiencing are not unique to Israel. They have occurred in most parts of the world including the US and Canada and we can learn from measures those countries have taken. The rolling blackouts we are experiencing in limited areas are essential precautionary measures to prevent the electricity grid from collapsing. We are hearing demands for an increase in the number of power stations. But short-term and more economical - yet effective - means for restoring the balance between supply and demand, by shifting a proportion of the load to off-peak hours, are unfortunately neglected. This process is known as "load shedding," a system for voluntarily or automatically cutting off the electric supply to selected low priority appliances when the demand exceeds available supply. During news reports, we hear appeals to avoid using elevators in order to conserve electricity. But people in high buildings are not going to take this advice. Nevertheless savings can be achieved in buildings with more than one elevator, by leaving only one in operation during peak hours. Some places including Brazil, California, New Zealand, and Norway have launched aggressive programs to relatively quickly conserve electricity by a combination of measures to change consumer behavior. Their programs have shown that it is possible to quickly reduce electricity demand by up to 20%, without major disruption or hardships. In some cases this has been achieved in a few months. TO ENCOURAGE consumers to change habits, some utilities have introduced a cost incentive, in the form of "time-of-day" rates that charge people less for using power during off-peak periods. An example of municipal-wide voluntary load shedding was introduced by the city of Columbia, Missouri to reduce peak demand at the customer level. Participation in the load shedding program is open to commercial and industrial customers who have demand levels of 250 kilowatts (kW) or higher during any month between June and September. As an incentive for participation, a credit of $48 per year is paid for each kilowatt of load shed. A major area in which savings can be effected is replacement of incandescent light bulbs with much more efficient compact fluorescents. This was effectively carried out in Brazil, California, and New Zealand. California consumers installed nearly eight million CFLs during the crisis period, resulting in almost 500 MW of demand reduction. California cities also replaced millions of traffic lights with LEDs, each saving about 80 watts. In more sophisticated applications remotely controlled automatic electric load shedding options are available to residential, commercial, and industrial customers. The utility provides economic incentives in the form of variable charges, and remotely interrupts the electricity supply to particular appliances such as air conditioners in the customer's premises. Research and product development is still being carried out to determine optimum strategies for load-management acceptable to customers. In individual commercial or industrial premises, sophisticated equipment is available which will, for example, automatically shut down temporarily, one or more of the compressors in the air conditioning system during periods of excess demand. I'm not suggesting that long-term plans be shelved for constructing additional power generating plants, but short term measures which have been proved to be effective in other countries ought not be ignored. The writer, based in Herzliya is an industrial engineer and business consultant.