Peak-load pricing also involves charging different prices at different points in time. Rather than capturing consumer surplus, however, the objective is to increase economic efficiency by charging consumers prices that are close to marginal cost.
For some goods and services, demand peaks at particular times—for roads and tunnels during commuter rush hours, for electricity during late summer afternoons, and for ski resorts and amusement parks on weekends. Marginal cost is also high during these peak periods because of capacity constraints. Prices should thus be higher during peak periods.
This is illustrated in above Figure, where D1 is the demand curve for the peak period and D2 the demand curve for the nonpeak period. The firm sets marginal revenue equal to marginal cost for each period, obtaining the high price P1 for the peak period and the lower price P2 for the nonpeak period, selling corresponding quantities Q1 and Q2. This strategy increases the firm’s profit above what it would be if it charged one price for all periods. It is also more efficient: The sum of producer and consumer surplus is greater because prices are closer to marginal cost.
The efficiency gain from peak-load pricing is important. If the firms were a regulated monopolist (e.g., an electric utility), the regulatory agency should set the prices P1 and P2 at the points where the demand curves, D1 and D2, intersect the marginal cost curve, rather than where the marginal revenue curves intersect marginal cost. In that case, consumers realize the entire efficiency gain.