Frequently Asked Questions: Real-Time Pricing
Real-time electricity pricing is a legally required option for electricity consumers in Illinois by Public Act 094-0977. Legally speaking:
“Real-time pricing" means tariffed retail charges for delivered electric power and energy that vary hour-to-hour and are determined from wholesale market prices using a methodology approved by the Illinois Commerce Commission.
In plain language, real-time pricing gives consumers information about the actual cost of electricity at any given time. Electricity prices change from hour to hour, but most consumers are forced to pay the same price no matter when they use electricity. Real-time pricing lets consumers adjust their electricity usage accordingly; for example, scheduling usage during periods of low demand to pay cheaper rates. Both ComEd and Ameren offer real-time pricing programs in Illinois.
Real-time electricity pricing requires the installation of an electricity smart meter that can send and receive information about electricity costs and give consumers more information about their own usage. ComEd and Ameren have a number of ways that this information can be received, including online, via e-mail, text message, or telephone.
By providing accurate information about electricity rates – as determined by overall demand – real-time pricing allows consumers to use that information to make decisions about electricity use. Adjusting personal electricity usage to coincide with times of lower demand can save consumers money by taking advantage of lower prices. This is particularly effective when adjusting usage for air conditioners, dishwashers, washing machines and other appliances that use large amounts of electricity.
ComEd reports that consumers with electricity bills under $40 per month are less likely to save money through real-time pricing. Ameren lowers that threshold to $30 per month, and also notes that consumers using electricity to heat their homes may already be receiving special electricity rates. Ameren customers with electric heating can contact program administrators CNT Energy for help deciding if real-time pricing is right for them.
Illinois residential consumers are eligible for real-time pricing.
Both ComEd and Ameren have real-time pricing programs available to their customers. Enrollment requires a smart meter and some small fees are associated with the program. Both ComEd and Ameren require that customers stay enrolled in the program for at least 12 months.
Real-time pricing can generate savings when consumers pay attention to fluctuations in electricity pricing and adjust their usage accordingly. To take advantage of real-time programs, consumers must monitor prices provided to them by their utility and be flexible in the ways they choose to use electricity.
To benefit from real-time pricing, customers must monitor prices and adjust electricity usage accordingly.
To save the most money, aim to use electricity when demand levels and prices are low. If possible, use appliances that demand the most electricity – such as dishwashers, air conditioners, washing machines, vacuum cleaners and others – during periods of low demand. Typically, these times are overnight and in the middle parts of the day. Some utility companies also have opportunities available to help you maximize benefits from real-time pricing, such as ComEd’s “Load Guard Automated Price Response” program.
Additionally, many appliance companies are beginning to produce “smart appliances.” These appliances can communicate with the smart meters installed as a part of real-time pricing plans, and can be programmed to run based upon that information. As more of these appliances become available, they will provide a great opportunity for consumers to conserve electricity and save money.
Ameren has also created the Energy Saving Toolkit to help customers maximize returns from the Power Smart Pricing program.