In the wake of the recent electricity shortages in Texas, ERCOT is considering a plan to allow the utility to directly control customers' thermostats:
The Dallas Morning News reports that the Electric Reliability Council of Texas is working on a program that would allow engineers to control home thermostats to increase conservation effectiveness in times of high demand.
“Demand response is probably the best tool that could be implemented quickly because it takes several years to build a [power] generator,” ERCOT chief executive Trip Doggett told the newspaper."
UPDATE: Baltimore Gas & Electric has already implemented a plan along these lines, and it hasn't been terribly popular with those who chose to opt in:
On one of the hottest days in recorded Baltimore history, 72,000 residences were without air conditioning for at least six hours. BGE also used its radio-controlled switches to partially cut air conditioning for an additional 278,000 homes.
Many customers said they were entirely without air conditioning from late morning until after 8 p.m. on a day when the official temperature hit 106 and the air pollution index blew past the "unhealthy for certain groups" zone and into "unhealthy for everybody" territory.
BGE swears people who signed up for the cutoff plan, designed to save energy and keep the grid from overloading, should have known what to expect in exchange for their "Peak Rewards" bill credits.
"We have represented the program fairly," Mark Case, the utility's senior vice president for regulation and strategy, told this newspaper."