Have We Seen the End of Peak Demand?

There has been a lot of comment in the media lately about how dodgy forecasts have  impacted retail electricity bills. Is this really the case? Has peak demand peaked? Have we over-invested in peaking capacity? I don’t propose to come up with a definitive answer here but by exploring forecasting methodologies I hope to show why such predictions are so hard to do. In this post I am going to show that a pretty good model can be developed using free software and a couple of sources of publicly available data (ABS, BOM) on wet a Melbourne Saturday afternoon. To cheer me up I am going to use Queensland electricity data from AEMO and concentrate on summer peak demand. I am then going to apply this technique to data only up to summer 2009 to and compare that to the recently downward-revised AEMO forecast.

But first let’s start with a common misconception. The mistake many commentators make is confusing the economics of electricity demand with the engineering of the network for peak capacity. Increasing consumption of electricity will impact wholesale prices of electricity. To a lesser extent it will also affect retail prices as retailers endeavour to pass on costs to consumers. The main driver of increased retail electricity prices however is network costs; specifically the cost of maintain enough network capacity for peak demand periods.

Let’s start by looking at some AEMO data. The following chart show total electricity consumption by month for Queensland from 2000 – 2011.

Queensland Energy Consumption

We can see from this chart that total consumption has started to fall from around 2010. Interestingly, though, we have seen the peakiness increase from about 2004 where summers have a much greater electricity usage than non-peak seasons.

If we overlay this with peak demand then we see some interesting trends.

Consumption versus Demand

What we see is from 2006 onwards is an increasing separation between peak demand and total consumption. There are a couple of factors underlying this decoupling. One is increased energy efficiency of homes driven by energy efficient building standards and other schemes such as the home insulation scheme. The other is the rapid uptake of solar power. Generous feed in tariffs have encouraged a widespread uptake of solar panels which has decreased the amount of energy consumed from the grid except at peak times. A solar panel will reduce electricity consumption during the day but in during warm summer evenings when the sun has disappeared air conditioners will run heavily on network electricity. The implication of the decoupling of peak demand from total consumption is that we either have to pay more for our electricity to maintain the same standard of supply or accept lower reliability of supply, especially at time when we most need it – very hot and very cold days.

When we overlay temperature on peak demand we see generally summer peaking which is typical for Queensland. We also see that maximum temperatures were higher earlier in the decade and then generally cooler in the last three years. It is important to remember that what we are seeing is longer wave of variability which is not a trend. This is often understood but not properly accounted for in forecasting temperature-variant behaviour.Demand versus Temperature

The above chart does not use maximum monthly temperature but the average maximum of the hottest four days of each month. Those who have studied electricity usage behaviour know that the highest peak often occurs after a run of hot days. By averaging the hottest few days of each month we get a measure that captures both the peak temperature and the temperature run. It is not necessary for this purpose to explicitly calculate consecutive days because temperature is not randomly distributed: temperature tends to cluster anyway. Another way to capture this is count the number of days above a given temperature. Both types of variable can perform well in models such as these.

We can see from this chart that peak demand continues to rise despite variability caused by temperature. The next step then is to add variables that describe the increase in peak. In my experience population usually performs the best but in this case I’ll test a couple of economic time series measures form the ABS National Accounts.

I also create a dummy variable to flag June, July and August as winter months. My final dataset looks like this:

Data snapshot

Preparation of data is the most important element of analytics. It is often difficult, messy and time consuming work but something that many of those new to analytics skip over.

In this exercise I have created dummy variables and eventually discard all except a flag indicating if a particular month is a winter month as per the data shown above. This will allow the model to treat minimum temperature differently during cold months.

Another common mistake is that extremes such as peak demand can only be modelled on the extreme observations. In this case I look at peak demand is all months in order to fit the summer peaks rather than just modelling the peaks themselves. This is because there is important information in how consumer demand varies between peak and non-peak months. This way the model is not just a forecast but a high level snapshot of population response to temperature stimulus. Extreme behaviour is defined by the variance from average behaviour.

My tool of choice is the GLM (Generalised Linear Model) which gives me a chance to experiment with both categorical variables (e.g. is it winter? Yes/No) and various distributions of peak demand (i.e. normal or gamma) and whether I want to fit a linear or logarithmic line to the data.

After a good deal of experimentation I end up with a very simple model which exhibits good fit and each of the predictor variables fit significance greater than 95%. For the stats minded here is the output:

GLM Output

You will notice that I have just four variables from two data sources left in my model. Economic measures did not make it to the final model. I suspect that population growth acts as a proxy for macroeconomic growth over time both in terms of number of consumers and available labour supporting economic output.

Another approach borrowed from data mining that is not always used in forecasting is to hold a random test sample of data which the model is not trained on but is validated in terms of goodness of fit statistics. The following show the R-squared fit against both the data used to train the model and the hold out validation dataset.

Model Fit - Training Data

Model Fit - Test Data

We can be confident on the basis of this that our model explains about 80% of the variance in peak demand over the last decade (with I suspect that balance being explained by a combination of solar pv, household energy efficiency programs, industrial use  and “stochastic systems” – complex interactive effects that cannot be modelled in this way).

Another way to look at this is to visually compare the predicted peak demand against actual peak demand as done in the following graph.

GLM Model - Predicted versus Actual

We can see from this chart that the model tends to overestimate demand in the earlier part of the period and underestimate at the end. I am not too concerned about that however as I am trying to fit an average over the period so that I can extrapolate an extreme. I will show that this only has a small impact on the short term forecast. This time series does have a particularly big disruption which is the increased penetration of air conditioning. We know that the earlier part of the period includes relatively low air conditioner penetration (and we have now most likely reached maximum penetration of air conditioning). Counteracting this is the fact that the later period includes households with greater energy efficiency. These events in counteract each other. As with weather you can remove variability if you take a long enough view.

Let see what happens if we take temperature up to a 10 POE level and forecast out three years to November 2014. That is, what happens if we feed 1-in-10 year temperatures into the model? I emphasise that this is 10 POE temperature; not 10 POE demand.

GLM - 10 POE Temperature Prediction

We see from this chart that actual demand exceed our theorised demand three times (2005, 2007 and 2010) out of 12 years. Three years out of twelve can be considered as 25 POE or in other words peak exceeds the theorised peak 25% of the time over a twelve year period.

2010 appears to be an outlier as overall the summer was quite mild. There was however a spike of very warm weather in South East Queensland in January which drove a peak not well predicted by my model. The month also recorded very cool temperature which has caused my model to drag down peak demand. This is consistent with the concept of probability of excedance. That is, there will be observed occurrences that exceed the model.

The final test of my model will be to compare back to the AEMO model. My model predicts a 2013/14 summer peak of 2309 MW at 25 POE. The 50 POE summer peak forecast for 2013/14 under the Medium scenario for AEMO is 9262 MW and 9568 MW at 10 POE. If we approximate a 25 POE for AEMO as the midpoint between the two then we get 9415 MW. Which means we get pretty close with using just population and temperature, some free data and software and a little bit of knowledge (which we know is a dangerous thing).

GLM Fit to AEMO Model

This forecast is a significant downward forecast on previous expectations which has in part lead to the accusations of dodgy forecasting and “gold plating” of the network. So what happens if I apply my technique again but this time only on data up until February 2009? That was the last time we saw a really hot spell in South East Queensland. If new data has caused forecasts to be lowered then going back this far should lead to model that exceeds the current AEMO forecast. The purple line in the graph below is the result of this new model compared to actual and the first model and AEMO:

GLM Modelled Pre-2010

What we see here is much better fitting through the earlier period, some significant under fitting of the hot summers of 2004 and 2005, but an almost identical result to the original GLM model in forecasting through 2012, 2013 and 2014. And still within the bound of the AEMO 10 and 50 POE forecasts. Hindsight is always 20/20 vision, but there is at least prima facie evidence to say that the current AEMO forecast appears to be on the money and previous forecasts have been overcooked. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next few years. We should expect peak demand to exceed the 50 POE line once every 2 years and the 10 POE line every 10 years.

We have not seen the end of peak demand. The question is how far are we willing to trade off reliability in our electricity network to reduce the cost of accommodating peak demand. The other question is all-of-system peak demand forecasting is good and well, but where will the demand happen on the network, will it be concentrated in certain areas and what are the risks to industry and consumers of lower reliability in these areas? I’ll tackle this question in my next post.