With much of the nation preparing for another day of record or near-record temperatures, the nation's electric utilities are urging homes and businesses to keep cool, but to use their electricity wisely. To help them, electric companies are encouraging customers to contact them, or visit their Web sites for more information, according to Edison Electric Institute (EEI).

Simple, no- and low-cost tips for using electricity wisely include:

  • Setting the thermostat at 78 degrees or higher when the house is occupied, and at 85 degrees when vacant (save 1 - 2 percent per degree raised on cooling costs).
  • Keeping the door and vents closed in unused rooms (save up to 3 percent on cooling costs).
  • Washing/drying full loads of clothes and use cold water as often as possible (save 2 - 4 percent on energy costs). -
  • Using a microwave oven instead of a regular oven (save up to 90 percent on cooking costs).

Among the electricity providers calling for greater conservation this week was PJM Interconnection, the electric grid operator for more than 51 million people in 13 states and the District of Columbia. On Wednesday, PJM ordered a 5 percent voltage reduction in its Mid-Atlantic region to meet an extremely high demand for electricity. Electrical equipment generally is designed to operate at plus or minus 10 percent of normal 120-V current.

Gulf Power Co., a subsidiary of Southern Company, passed its previous peak demand of 2537 MW yesterday. The early mark was set on July 10 this year. Also on Wednesday, Appalachian Power Co., a subsidiary of American Electric Power Co., topped 6455 MW -- up from its prior summer peak of 6395 MW, which was set Aug. 2, 2006.

EEI's Vice President Policy and Public Affairs Bill Brier said that to meet the country's continually growing demand for electricity, the nation needs to invest in more power plants, transmission and distribution lines, and energy efficiency. "Without all three, it won't be enough."

Electric output last year was the second highest yearly total ever. Looking ahead, the country is expected to set more records for electricity use this summer and beyond. The population of the United States is anticipated to grow 23 percent between now and 2030. The nation's gross domestic product is projected to double in that time. And both events lead the federal government to predict that electricity use will grow by 40 percent over the same period.

"The industry recognizes there is great interest in energy savings and efficiency, but Americans can do more to lower their electric bills," Brier said. "We recently surveyed the nation and found that although consumers are in favor of energy efficiency, less than a third of the public are already taking steps to reduce their electricity use. For example, only 26 percent are setting their home's air conditioner thermostat at 78 degrees or higher, and just 27 percent are installing compact fluorescent light bulbs."

In the longer term, the electric power industry believes that technology advances will create opportunities for homes and businesses to use their energy even more efficiently. For example, during peak electricity demand periods such as this week, two-way communication and electronic "smart" meters will be able to give customers the option to delay the start of their large appliances until demand is lower.

"In the meantime," said Brier, "electric utilities will continue to help their customers to use their electricity more wisely through tips and advice and a variety of energy-saving services. During the past 15 years, these efficiency initiatives have enabled the country to save nearly 750 billion kWh -- enough to power almost 70 million homes for a year.