U.Va. to Reduce Electric Demand for One Hour in Emergency Drill

June 8, 2012 — The University of Virginia will reduce the electricity it draws from the power grid for one hour on June 14.

From 2 to 3 p.m., the University will seek to reduce electric demand by turning off unnecessary equipment and switching some of its operations to generators. The goal is to reduce electric demand by 10 megawatts, which represents about 18 percent of the University's peak electrical demand.

This is part of U.Va.'s participation in the Demand Response Program, sponsored by Virginia's Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy. It was designed as a practice run of energy reduction, so that in case of an energy emergency, U.Va. will be prepared to reduce its consumption from electric utilities.

An energy emergency could be declared if heavy use of the electric generating and transmission system threatens to cause outages, such as on a very hot summer day when everyone with an air conditioner is using it.

"Historically, 'emergency' has meant loss of power," said Armando de Leon, sustainability programs manager for U.Va. Facilities Management. "However, given the interconnectivity of the electric grid, that definition has been expanded to include a declared emergency in the grid which includes the risk of a loss of power in a section of the grid that may be quite remote from U.Va."  U.Va.'s participation, along with that of other users, will reduce demand and help avert a blackout. 

In a similar exercise last year, the University reduced its draw from the electric grid by six megawatts.

"We have increased our goal to 10 megawatts to garner greater electricity savings and do our part to reduce electric usage during peak demand," Nina Morris, Facilities Management's sustainability outreach coordinator, said. "We have developed a larger plan than last year by looking at a wider range of systems that we can either power down or switch over to generators. And as the U.Va. community is now more familiar with the program, we anticipate higher voluntary participation in powering down unused electronic equipment such as computers and lighting"

De Leon said the reduction in electric draw would come from a combination of savings and substitutions, including shifting the electric load over to several emergency generators. Employees are asked to turn off any lights and appliances, such as printers, that are not necessary to their work.

"We want people to be more conscious of their energy consumption for that hour," Morris said.

"We're asking staff, faculty and students for some coordinated behavior modifications," de Leon said. "If you are not using your computer, power it down. If you are using a laptop, unplug it and run on the battery for an hour. Things that are not in active use can be disconnected. Work with a desk lamp instead of room lights."

While employees are asked to reduce their consumption of electricity at work as much as possible, de Leon said the functions of the University would continue.

"There will be no effect on patient care or research," he said.

The drill assesses how well large users can withdraw from the electric grid in time of emergency.

"We're contributing in a number of different ways," de Leon said. "We are helping improve the overall stability of the electric grid, we are helping the community and we are helping ourselves, because having outages and brown-outs would be detrimental to our students, patient care and to research."

The Demand Response Program was created by a 2007 executive order from then-Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine and has since been extended.