It's somewhat of a cliche in environmental circles, but the greenest electricity is the electricity you don't use. Not only can efficiency, conservation and demand reduction reduce emissions from existing power plants, but when pursued seriously enough, it can reduce the need for new power plants being built in the first place.
Now Yahoo News reports that the UK's National Grid is seeking partners who are willing to power down, investing in what are sometimes referred to as negawatts.
Paying big, industrial users of energy to power down their operations at times when supply is limited is not a new idea. The Faroe Islands have already incentivized industry to voluntarily power down, and New York State has previously set aside $27million for encouraging demand reduction. The scheme from the National Grid follows a similar approach: requesting applications from eligible industry partners, who are then paid a retainer for joining the scheme—alongside further financial rewards if they are asked to shut down during shortages.
So far, there appears to be considerable interest, with a National Grid spokesperson announcing over 500 sites have come forward. Those sites represent a potential for up to 300MW of demand management. That's right, 300MW from just 500 sites.
Now imagine what would happen if we started getting really serious about demand reduction, not just during specific shortages, but as part of an overall strategy to green our energy supply. While all the recent investment in gigantic offshore wind farms and massive solar farms should be welcomed, we should never forget that negawatts are a serious, cost-effective "source" of power.
Negawatts are big business. It's time to invest.