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How utility companies lower electricity use by controlling your thermostat

Utility companies want to be able to make the demand go up and down just as much as the supply fluctuates.

Pat Dooris

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Across the West, the days of many coal-fired electric plants are numbered.

Utilities know a time is coming when they will not be able to count on the constant power generated by those plants.

One side of the equation involves creating more renewable sources of energy like wind farms and solar plants. The other side is getting customers to use less power, or use it at times with lower demand.

Because unlike coal, with its steady, although relatively dirty supply, wind turbines only make power when the wind blows. And solar panels only create electricity when the sun shines. So the utility companies want to be able to make the demand go up and down just as much as the supply fluctuates.

And here’s the tricky part: That demand must happen at the same time as the supply is going up or down.

“Energy is the only commodity that has to be consumed the instant its generated. And the grid, as you can see, has to always be in balance,” said Jason Salmi Klotz with Portland General Electric.

But how can you quickly move demand down when the wind stops blowing? Or move it up when the sun shines?

That’s what we will focus on in this story because it's a big part of what’s coming in our energy future and the future is being created right now.

Whether you like it or not, it will have a direct impact on you.