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​History of Demand Response

​BPA’s values of partnership, reliability, innovation, as well as financial and environmental stewardship have inspired four decades of work in demand response. Bonneville has collaborated with its public power customers and residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural partners in testing and developing an array of DR projects across the Northwest.


Pioneering DR work, 1977-1992

BPA’s early work focused on controlling peak load – reducing peak demand for electricity – in an era when utilities were concerned with having adequate power to reliably serve a growing region. During 1977, a prolonged drought gripped the Northwest, cutting hydroelectric capacity and raising the threat of power outages.

Energy conservation – the quickest, cleanest and most economical solution – became the driver behind two pioneering demand-response pilots. In 1977-1978, BPA and the U.S. Department of Energy partnered with the City of Port Angeles, Washington, on the first demand-response project in the Northwest, focusing on load control.

In 1985, Bonneville and the City of Milton-Freewater, Oregon, launched a highly successful demand-response program that operates to this day. The utility managed a fleet of water heaters in local homes, cycling them on and off through a voltage signal to shave peak power demand and lessen costs. In both its phases, the program paid for itself in a year or less.


Advent of non-wires strategies, 1990s

BPA explored non-wires opportunities, implementing more than 15 demand-response pilots with its public power customers in the 1990s. “Non-wires” refers to tools and strategies that can defer or avoid construction of new transmission infrastructure, or “wires.”

Most of these projects focused on reducing winter peaks in energy use using water heaters, residential space heating and voltage reduction. They also included load-shifting tests using time-of-use power rates, as well as DR marketing experiments and projects using existing emergency or backup generators.

Orcas Power & Light shows DR’s long-term value, 1995-2002

A non-wires collaboration between BPA and customer Orcas Power & Light Cooperative (OPALCO) became one of the most high-profile examples of demand response in the region. In 1991, a ship’s anchor damaged one of three cables carrying power underwater to the San Juan Islands in Washington. The loss of transmission capacity put power customers on 20 islands at risk of outages during peak winter demand.

By recruiting 60 percent of the 6,900 nonseasonal homes – without using financial  incentives – to participate in a water- and space-heating DR program, the utility was able to cut its demand for power by about 7 megawatts. This not only enabled OPALCO to stay in compliance with transmission reliability standards, it delayed construction of a costly new submarine line for nearly eight years. BPA’s investment costs were dramatically reduced; the agency estimated cash savings of between $8 million and $25 million, at a cost of approximately $1.6 million over the program’s six winter seasons.

Demand Exchange proves its worth, 1999-2006

In 1999, BPA helped advance an electric revolution by laying the groundwork for demand-side management and a future “smart grid.”

The idea behind the initiative, called Energy Web, was to give consumers information and controls to manage their own energy use. Examples include air conditioners that provide a signal about market prices and energy supply; controls that allow a homeowner to decide when to wash clothes based on the hourly price of energy; and relays that let a utility turn off power to an end user when the grid is in danger of overload.

To test concepts, BPA launched two power demand-exchange pilots in 2000. The Demand Exchange program succeeded in developing 850 megawatts of curtailable load (demand for power) through contracts with large industrial direct-service customers – primarily Northwest aluminum plants – and 15 customer utilities. From 2000 to 2002, Demand Exchange produced estimated net savings to BPA of over $2.5 million in reduced power purchase costs, savings that were in excess of operating costs. BPA then used the portfolio of DR assets to manage localized transmission constraints until September 2006.



New technology tested around region, 2004-2013

BPA implemented more than two dozen, mostly small-scale DR projects with customers starting in 2004. These projects tested an array of DR products using different control and communication technologies, including water heaters, irrigation pumps, commercial and public building loads, and residential appliances. Other programs tested programmable thermostats, voltage reduction, time-clock control of water heaters and thermal storage. Locations ranged from rural farming and logging communities to suburbs and downtown Seattle skyscrapers.