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Behavioral considerations for effective time-varying electricity prices

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 October 2017

Institute for Data, Systems, and Society, MIT, Cambridge, MA, USA
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
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Wholesale prices for electricity vary significantly due to high fluctuations and low elasticity of short-run demand. End-use customers have typically paid flat retail rates for their electricity consumption, and time-varying prices (TVPs) have been proposed to help reduce peak consumption and lower the overall cost of servicing demand. Unfortunately, the general practice is an opt-in system: a default rule in favor of TVPs would be far better. A behaviorally informed analysis also shows that when transaction costs and decision biases are taken into account, the most cost-reflective policies are not necessarily the most efficient. On reasonable assumptions, real-time prices can result in less peak conservation of manually controlled devices than time-of-use or critical-peak prices. For that reason, the trade-offs between engaging automated and manually controlled loads must be carefully considered in time-varying rate design. The rate type and accompanying program details should be designed with the behavioral biases of consumers in mind, while minimizing price distortions for automated devices.

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