Negawatt Plant Open for Business

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Image uploaded from the EVO blog (check it out)

I may have titled this blog with a little bit of a misleading statement; technically the plant isn’t newly open for business, it has been open for business for quite a while but trust me... this is kind of new.

Now the second thing that I should address before I really get into this is the notion of a negawatt (what is it and why should you care). Well a negawatt is a concept that has been floating around for a bit of time now, but only as a whisper really. The idea is simple. A watt is a unit of power; 15 watts is what it takes to run your typical compact fluorescent light bulb. Now at the University we use thousands and thousands of lights so we don’t deal with watts, we deal with megawatts (a million watts).

Now take that concept and flip it on its head. Rather than generating energy, say a megawatt of energy, a negawatt does the opposite, it removes a megawatt of energy. And that’s the deal right there; negawatts are the amount of energy that you remove from the grid.

Now here is the ‘why you should care’ part. On an average summer day the University of Ottawa is generating about 5 to 6 megawatts. But every once and a while the Province of Ontario calls us up and utters the magic word – DR3. Do you remember six years ago when the eastern seaboard basically went black for a couple of days? You know the great Black-out of 2003? Well Demand Response 3 (DR3) is the Province’s answer to that black-out. They call us and we react by cutting as much power as possible, thus avoiding overloading the grid and/or having to buy expensive power from the Americans.

Now I would love to give you the impression that this event is a super top secret, high priority thing. You know... we get a call at the Power Plant, a small bureaucratic pencil pusher covered in sweat picks up the phone. His eyes widen as he hears the news. He slams down the phone and screams DR3!!! Red sirens flash, a panicked group of power plant workers pull down on dozens of levers, steam blows out of the big boiler as it slowly hums to a halt. Yeah that would be sweet but it doesn’t quite work like that. Now don’t get me wrong, my hats off to the workers at the power plant... dealing with a DR3 certainly isn’t easy. It’s just not quite like that.

Sorry, let me get back on track. So you should care about negawatts because essentially it is saving the Province from overloading the system during really hot days when everyone is trying to use their air-conditioning. The university essentially generates negawatts – a.k.a. reduces its consumption of energy to help provide relief for the grid.

Now here is the really important part that you should care even more about. The Province is willing to pay large energy users to reduce their energy loads during DR3 events. This is important, my boss tells me during one of our hallway chats, because for the first time it is giving energy conservation a chance. Rather than building larger power plants to deal with the issue, the Province is recognizing that it is cheaper to simply cut-back energy use. Let’s hope this idea is contagious.

PS- Las t DR3 event we were able to reduce the energy load of the University by 1.6 megawatts for 4 hours. This is enough energy to allow about 300 homes to stay online.

-jon

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