Just Play It Cool…Pre-Cool

Power lines at sunset.

It’s a typical, sweltering August day in Los Angeles, with temperatures pushing 95 degrees downtown. When people get home from work in the late afternoon, the first thing they do is crank up the AC to cool their overheated homes.

Unfortunately, this surge in demand taxes the already stretched power grid, with the energy supply having great difficulty meeting the growing demand. At 5 p.m., the California Independent System Operator, or CAISO, which runs the bulk of the state’s wholesale energy market, issues a Flex Alert, asking consumers to voluntarily cut their electricity usage. Because of the tepid response, rolling blackouts follow, cutting off power in rotating one-hour intervals to millions of Angelenos. During the outages, people can’t cook, wash their clothes, watch TV or use their air conditioning.

Researchers at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering are experimenting with a new approach to keeping the AC running, even on the hottest days — one that saves consumers money, reduces CO2 emissions from the generation of electricity, and lowers the demand for power during peak hours, thereby decreasing the likelihood of Flex Alerts and rolling blackouts.

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