What Is Grid Stress and How It Affects Your Energy Bill

Most of us tend to look at our energy bills with dismay as they creep upward month on month. But rarely do we delve into the reasons why they increase so rapidly. We should, however, question the things that affect our energy bills because it allows us to understand the reasons why and, more importantly, how to address the problem.

We’ve all heard of “the grid,” but what is it, exactly? And why does grid stress play such an important role in the cost of our energy bills?

The fact is that grid stress is a looming problem, and it’s only going to start creating more strain on Colorado’s farms and businesses as the years progress. Fortunately, there is a solution that you can act on now, and it’ll remove your reliance on the grid for good, so grid stress, high energy bills, and blackouts will no longer be your concern.

In this article, we’ll explain what grid stress is, what affects it, and how you can help prevent it, so let’s get started. 

In a Nutshell

  • Grid stress occurs when the demand for electricity outstrips the supply or the demand remains the same, but the available supply is reduced.
  • Grid stress causes energy bills to increase.
  • Colorado experiences grid stress due to increased population, climate change, and an increased use of appliances.
  • Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to climate change, and the increased need for water and water generation will place stress on the grid.
  • Grid stress and the risk of blackouts can be alleviated by going solar. 

How Does the Electrical Grid Work, Exactly?

Power lines at sunset

“The grid” is less of a grid and more of a gigantic network of cables, power stations, power lines, and other infrastructure that allows electricity to be delivered from the generation plant to your home or business.

The grid was first established in Manhattan and New Jersey in 1882 and has since expanded across all states in the USA, with the exception of Hawaii and Alaska (both of which maintain their own grids).

Nowadays, there are around 11,000 utility-scale power plants delivering power to homes, businesses, and transport via 160,000 miles of power lines. 

The power plants that generate the electricity differ greatly, with many producing power from “dirty” or non-renewable sources. The current breakdown of fuel sources is:

  • Gas: 38.4%
  • Coal: 21%
  • Nuclear: 18.9%
  • Wind: 9.2%
  • Hydro: 6%
  • Solar: 2.6%
  • Biomass: 1.3%
  • Oil: 0.6%
  • Other fossil fuels: 0.5%

For Colorado, the energy mix percentages look like this:

  • Coal: 37.6%
  • Gas: 26.7%
  • Wind: 28.6%
  • Solar: 4.2%
  • Hydro: 2.9%
  • Biomass: 0.3%

When each power plant generates electricity, it is transported along the massive network of power lines to sub-stations and utility companies (otherwise known as distribution centers). The sub-stations then transform the high-voltage electricity into the low-voltage power that we use in our homes and businesses.

As a consumer, you have a contract with an energy supplier who will supply you with electricity for a certain price. 

However, you will have most certainly noticed that this price fluctuates and, more often than not, rises but doesn’t reduce back to its original cost. These increases are influenced by many factors, but one of the more notable ones is something called “grid stress.”

What Is Grid Stress and How Does It Affect Energy Bills?

Man repairing a power line

Grid stress is the outcome where the supply and demand of electricity fall out of balance. 

There are certain occasions or times of the year when demand suddenly shoots up, and the grid struggles to accommodate it. On other occasions, the demand may remain steady, but the available supply may dip.

For example, if a power plant suddenly goes offline, this generally causes a massive shortfall in the amount of electricity available. Another common scenario is a heatwave occurring. Millions of homes suddenly switching on their air conditioning units creates a huge spike in demand.

Grid stress most commonly occurs during peak demand hours. These are times when people are most actively using electricity. For example, in the evening, when people are home and using kitchen appliances, TVs and other entertainment devices, water boilers, heat pumps, and air conditioning units.

Because of the increased use of electricity, demand for the grid soars, causing it to struggle.

For those on a Time-of-Use Plan (TOU), the effects of grid stress are immediately noticeable, with electricity rates rising during these peak demand hours.

Those on monthly tariffs will see an increase in their power bills in the following months, especially if there is a sustained period of grid stress, such as during a heatwave or if a power plant is offline.

What Is a Blackout, and How Do They Happen?

Powerlines against a blue sky

Blackouts occur when the transmission of electricity from the power plant or distribution center to homes and businesses ceases. 

There are a myriad of reasons why you may experience a blackout. It could be as straightforward as a tree falling on a power line somewhere or a distribution center experiencing a technical fault. These types of blackouts are typically short-lived and usually only affect a handful of people.

But there are other, bigger reasons at play, too. The large-scale blackouts that happened in Texas were due to the sustained cold temperatures halting the production of gas – the main source of the state’s electricity. When there was suddenly no gas to run the power plants, the lights went out across Texas for a number of days.

Over in California, the rolling blackouts there are caused by heat rather than cold. Many of them are enforced for public safety during dry, hot days in an attempt to lessen the risk of wildfires. The rest of them tend to be the result of an insufficient energy supply. It’s little wonder, then, that California is currently at the forefront of solar energy as the state attempts to get its energy supplies up to a decent level.

Grid Stress in Colorado: The Main Culprits

On the whole, Colorado is doing okay as far as grid stress and blackouts are concerned. However, several things threaten this and create an uncertain future for the state’s energy supply.

Increased Appliance Use

Thermostat dial

Colorado is a mecca for skiing and snow-based activities. With an average temperature of 47.9°F, it’s not an especially warm place and ranks as the 12th coldest state in the US. But this is changing.

The state has seen an increase in its annual average temperatures of 2°F over the past three decades.  This doesn’t seem like much, but the rising summer temperatures mean that the use of air conditioners across the state is becoming a necessity rather than a “nice-to-have.” Right now, around 70% of residents in Denver alone have and use air conditioning. This is already a large number but has the potential to increase exponentially as the summer months get hotter year on year.

Air conditioning uses a large amount of electricity, and Xcel has already vocalized its concerns about its ability to cope and keep the power on during a sustained heatwave.

Furthermore, Coloradans are simply using more appliances, and with the government’s push to electrify homes even more, this is also set to rise. For example, there are currently rebates available for anyone who installs a heat pump in their home. While this is great for energy efficiency, it also moves more people away from gas and over to electricity, placing further strain on the grid.

Everyone Wants To Be Here

Man sitting with suitcase at airport

It may surprise you to learn that Colorado is the place to be right now, so much so that it’s in the top ten for fastest-growing states. In 2022, it had a population growth rate of just under 13%, which placed it 6th on the list for growth rates. 

This massive influx of people, each of them with their own electricity needs, has also worked to place the grid under more strain. 

This trend also does not appear to be slowing down any time soon, so as more and more people flock to enjoy what Colorado has to offer, the harder it will become to accommodate everyone’s power requirements.

Climate Change

Hot, sunny landscape

According to the Colorado Climate Change Vulnerability Study commissioned by the Colorado Energy Office, there are several key climate change-related concerns for Colorado:

  • There has been a below-average snowpack since 2000, and snowmelt and peak run-off have moved 1-4 weeks earlier in the season, with spring temperatures rising as a result.
  • Heat waves, droughts, and wildfires are projected to increase in frequency and severity over the coming years. For farmers, this brings an increased risk of wildfires, insect outbreaks, and invasions of non-native plant species.
  • Wildfires can shift landscapes from carbon sinks to carbon sources.
  • Winter precipitation events are projected to increase in frequency and magnitude.
  • Agriculture is particularly vulnerable to these changes.

How will all of this affect energy demand and prices? The study concluded the following:

  • As noted above, sustained heat and drought lead to increased use of air conditioning and other cooling appliances.
  • Thanks to drought and early snowmelt, irrigation for crops will be required for longer and will be pushed into late summer. Irrigation systems connected to the grid will create an increased demand for power.
  • Energy suppliers face more vulnerability due to more competition for water supplies. This has the knock-on effect of increased generation costs (and higher energy bills) as temperatures rise.
  • The potential increase in energy-intensive water projects (hydroelectric plants, for example) will place additional strain on the grid.
  • If additional carbon regulations are implemented by the government, the energy sector and consumers will be subjected to more uncertainty of future energy price increases, including any costs associated with crop production, water use, and transportation.

Can We Expect Blackouts in Colorado?

Light switch

While Colorado has its share of grid downtime, it hasn’t yet experienced blackouts of the length and severity that states such as Texas or California have experienced. In 2022, Colorado suffered five blackouts, which is very little when compared with California (39) and Texas (31).

But that does not mean we can sit back and relax. 

Last year, in 2022, energy companies expressed their concerns about the projected heatwave that would hit Colorado in the summer of 2023. And they weren’t wrong.

During the recent summer months, Colorado broke an incredible 350 daily maximum temperature records, and a further 165 records were tied. 

As we’ve already noted, sustained heat and drought places enormous strain on the grid. Therefore, if the upward trend of summer temperatures continues and the grid can’t keep up, increased blackouts could soon be on the horizon for much of Colorado.

How to Avoid Grid Stress and Rising Energy Bills

Solar panels in field

While we can all look for ways to reduce our energy consumption, insulate our properties, and invest in energy-efficient devices and appliances, there is one key thing that can have a huge positive impact all around – going solar.

Going solar solves the majority of the problems presented in this article:

  • Solar energy can power most, if not all, of your farm or business, removing your reliance on the grid altogether.
  • It has the ability to reduce your energy bills by up to 96%.
  • Solar is perfect for Colorado, thanks to its sunny, cool climate, you can almost guarantee high efficiency and energy harvesting.
  • By adding battery storage to your solar system, you can store energy for later use rather than having to draw power from the grid.
  • With batteries, grid blackouts can have zero impact on you and your business.
  • It’s a clean, renewable energy and plays a key role in the fight against climate change.

At 8760 Solar, we’re excited about the benefits that solar energy provides. Grid stress, rising energy bills, and blackouts are only going to become more prevalent across Colorado, so now is the time to act.

As the government pushes for all states to switch to clean energy, there’s never been a better time to get on board. 

If you’re interested in how solar can meet your energy needs, text “READY” to 719 470-0254 or get in touch via email: sales@8760solar.com. We can perform an analysis on your farm to show you exactly what to expect, as well as provide a bespoke quote. We’re looking forward to talking with you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are Power Outages Common in Denver?

Power outages are becoming increasingly more common in Denver. This is mainly due to the sustained influx of people placing additional demands on the grid, particularly in the summer months.

Does Colorado Have Its Own Power Grid?

Colorado utilizes the US power grid that runs across 50 states. Although it shares the grid with the rest of the US, it is home to 141 power plants and over 50 distributors (energy suppliers).

Where Does Colorado Get Its Electricity?

Colorado sources the majority of its electricity from coal and gas-powered plants. A large amount (almost 30%) is also derived from wind farms. A small percentage makes up the rest of the sources and includes solar, hydro, and biomass.

Will Colorado Have Rolling Blackouts?

Due to climate change and the large numbers of people moving to the state and placing demand on the grid, it is likely that Colorado will start to experience blackouts in the near future. 

Additionally, the upcoming closure of many of its coal plants and the move to clean energy may also create blackouts during the transition period.

Are Electric Bills Going Up in Colorado?

Electricity prices are going up in Colorado. The top reason for this is the recent increase in gas and coal prices. Xcel, Colorado’s largest energy supplier, is also increasing its electric bills in order to raise money to cover the cost of its coal plant closures and its shift to renewable energy.

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