Air-conditioning pauses save customers money, prevent brownouts

We’ve already sweltered through a few heat waves this year. And, despite the string of exceptionally hot days lately, area utilities say more and more customers are voluntarily having their central air conditioners turned off to save money and deal with peak energy demands.

PECO and PSE&G both offer the plans. Customers who join have a box installed on their air units. When electricity load spikes, the utilities cycle off some units for 15 minutes at a time.

Shutting off air-conditioning units in a coordinated way saves a lot of energy, so it helps the environment, says John Veprek, manager of PSE&G’s power cycling program.

“When the power is running thin, everything helps, and our program right now is like a small power plant — and if you had a small power plant you would be putting effluent out into the air and whatever,” he said. “This is a better way to provide energy, by saving it from one place so that you can use it for another.”

PSE&G says it has about 125,000 customers participating in their program, while PECO says 86,000 customers have joined.

But the option is not for everyone.

“If someone is extremely vulnerable and is very sensitive to temperature changes, it’s probably not a program they want to choose,” says Kathy Engle-Menendez of PECO.

“For example, if you’re not home in the afternoon on a work day, it’s probably a great program for you to participate in because you wouldn’t be at home when the program is occurring and you would still receive the bill credits,” she says.

Utilities like these programs because they help prevent brownouts when the whole grid is overtaxed.

They say customers usually don’t notice because their air conditioners are only turned off 15 minutes at a time.

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