Knowledge is (Electric) Power

Soaring demand for electricity in Northern Virginia is driving Dominion’s plans to build new transmission lines, submit to partial re-regulation, and embark upon construction of billions of dollars worth of new coal- and nuclear-powered generating plants. What would happen if future demand didn’t materialize as quickly as Dominion anticipated?

It’s well worth scrutinizing Dominion’s forecasts of electricity consumption. Are its forecasts simple extrapolations of past trends, or do they anticipate the changing economic landscape? I ask because we cannot assume that demand, especially in high-tech Northern Virginia, will continue to increase as it has in the past.

“Global electricity consumption by servers and ancillary equipment doubled between 2000 and 2004, estimated Jonathan Koomey, a staff scientst at Lawrence Berkely National Laboratory,” states an article in the Wall Street Journal today. But the computer sector is moving aggressively to curtail consumption. If Dominion extrapolates a continuation of the 2000-2005 trend, it may be overshooting the actual demand for electricity in the future.

Green Grid, a tech-industry consortium from California, was created to address the increasing power consumption of server systems and the data centers that use them. (Northern Virginia has a dozen or more of these server farms.) An immediate goal is to devise standard measures of power efficiency in computer rooms, thus eliminating a major obstacle to new energy-efficiency initiatives. One industry initiative, 80 Plus, focuses on the devices that convert alternating current into the direct current used by most computing equipment. The goal is to boost efficiency from 70 percent to 80 percent. The WSJ also reports that ColdWatt inc. is announcing a line of server power supplies that generate less heat and cut total server power consumption by 30 percent. Furthermore, as noted previously on this blog, Intel is rolling out a new, energy-efficient microchip this year.

Maybe Dominion is taking this entrepreneurial ferment into account with its forecasts, maybe it isn’t. But I am dubious that the policy makers who are rushing Dominion’s re-regulation bill into law know the answer. If Dominion’s forecasts are way off… if demand falls far short of projections… who picks up the bill under re-regulation for Dominion’s over-investment in electric capacity? The rate payers. If the people representing the rate payers aren’t probing aggressively into Dominion’s projections, they need to be. Knowledge is power.

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4 responses to “Knowledge is (Electric) Power”

  1. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    If Dominion was able to give $500m (after profit) in political donations to GA members, doesn’t that suggest that rates are $500m too high across the Commonwealth?

  2. analog man Avatar

    I would much rather have an overbuilt electric grid in VA than one that is underbuilt. That’s called reliability.

    We are now in a critical state on the supply-demand curve where we are closer to peak than not, on average. As a consequence, the wholesale rate for electricity is based on higher-cost peaker units to a great degree than in the past.

    Building more baseload coal and nuke generators — both of which have lower operating costs per Kwh — is absolutely essential.

    The concept of lowest-cost regulation is so entirely outmoded that I am suprised you seem to support it. Not so long ago EM was posting about the fact that government regulation will never keep up with the exponential change in our economy. Has something changed here, now that government may actually be ahead of the curve?

  3. Today TXU the Texas Utility comapny was bought out by private investors in one of the largset private takeovers in US history.
    the story goes the the investors in tend to make TXU more green.

    Maybe there is hope for conservation that is also profitable. Or we can holler and scream about those nasty capitalists looking for short term profits.

    JAB: How do you give mone after profits? Doesn’t anything you give have to come OUT of profits, unless it is a charitable gift, which still comes out of profits, but before taxes?

  4. I guess I would rather have a utility grid that is (slightly) overbuilt than one that is underbuilt, too. That doesn’t mean you have to mount a perpetual parade of steel gantry giants across the pristine portions of the countryside. There are other ways to do it.

    If it turns out that this IS the only answer, then the fact that we are on a critical part of the supply-demand curve implies that there ought to be plenty of money available to compensate anyone who gets stuck with a coal or nuclear plant in their back yard.

    If there is anything outmoded about the regulations, it is the compensation rules when eminent domain is required.

    I don’t think anyone should be denied electricity theya re willing to pay for, but I don;t think they should get it on the cheap at the expense of someone who paid for their home.

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