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June 27, 2019
Brattle Study: Cost-Effective Load Flexibility Can Reduce Costs by More Than $15 Billion Annually

Brattle economists have released a study that identifies nearly 200 GW of cost-effective load flexibility potential in the U.S. by 2030. This load flexibility potential, which equates to 20% of estimated U.S. peak load in 2030, would more than triple the existing demand response (DR) capability and would be worth more than $15 billion annually in avoided system costs.

The Brattle study combines insights from a number of client engagements conducted to assess the value and market potential of emerging load flexibility opportunities across various jurisdictions in North America. Historically, conventional DR has provided significant value through peak demand reductions. However, system needs are evolving, with a growing need for renewables integration and grid modernization. Load flexibility – the real-time control of electricity usage to provide a range of grid services around the clock – can play a key role in addressing these new challenges.

Using Brattle’s LoadFLEX model and data from a representative sampling of utilities in the U.S., the Brattle study estimates that the current DR capability of 60 GW could nearly double under current market conditions, gaining 16 GW by simply modernizing conventional DR programs and an additional 40 GW by introducing new load flexibility programs and value streams. Market transformation through 2030 – including smart metering deployment, renewable generation adoption, and expansion of the transmission and distribution system – could unlock an additional increase of 80 GW. This would result in a total national potential estimate of 200 GW of load flexibility.

The nationwide benefits of load flexibility could exceed $15 billion per year by 2030 and are driven by avoided investment in generation capacity, reduced energy costs, geographically-targeted transmission and distribution (T&D) investment deferral, and the provision of ancillary services.

“The potential for load flexibility to facilitate the transition to a decarbonized power system is remarkable and currently overlooked,” noted Ryan Hledik, a Brattle principal and the study’s lead author. “Our study demonstrates the importance for utilities and regulators to look beyond conventional ‘DR 1.0’ options when analyzing new demand-side opportunities.”

The study concludes with three predictions for the evolution of load flexibility initiatives over the next decade:

  • Utility load flexibility programs will become smarter before they get bigger, by first modernizing existing demand response programs to tap into their underutilized potential.
  • Residential load flexibility additions will exceed those of larger commercial and industrial customers, despite having only a 30% share of the current demand response market.
  • New regulatory incentives will be a primary driver of growth in load flexibility, due to renewed industry-wide interest in regulatory models that encourage utilities to pursue demand-side initiatives rather than capital investment in infrastructure.

The Brattle study, The National Potential for Load Flexibility: Value and Market Potential Through 2030, is authored by Brattle Principals Ryan Hledik and Ahmad Faruqui, Senior Research Analyst Tony Lee, and Research Analyst John Higham. The LoadFLEX model utilized in this study was most recently used to support the integrated resource planning effort of Xcel Energy in its Northern States Power service territory.