Comverge’s automated demand response is a win for utilities and their customers

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Electric utility companies have to supply electricity to a user base whose demand is variable but reasonably predictable. On particularly hot or cold days, demand will increase as people turn on air conditioning or central heating units. This causes a peak in demand which may only occur for a few hours per year but still has to be met by these utilities.

How do utilities deal with these peaks in demand? There are two ways generally. The first is to build peaking plants. These are generation facilities built specifically to handle peaks in power demand. This is the traditional way of handling surges in electricity consumption but it is expensive to build a power plant, especially one that will only potentially be used a couple of days a year.

The other way is to try to manage the demand for electricity so it doesn’t reach as high a peak – known as peak shaving, or more typically, demand response.

One company which supplies demand response solutions to utilities is Comverge. I spoke to Comverge’s VP of Marketing, Jason Cigarran recently, about their newest demand response product, SmartPrice.

Comverge have been working on demand response solutions with utilities for a number of years now and they have just published case studies with two of their customers Tampa Electric [PDF] and Gulf Power [PDF].

What is interesting about these case studies is that the utilities customers report increased satisfaction with their utilities, as well as lower power bills. And the utilities get more predictable demand response, as well as happier customers. Classic win-win.

How does it work so well? Well the Comverge demand response offering is an automated system. Utility customers access it through a web portal and set how their devices should respond to demand response events. Typically they might set their pool pump to turn off, or their aircon to increase its temperature a degree or two.

The utility companies in turn see how much demand their customers have signed up to shed and because it is an automated load shedding, they know how much demand will reduce. This is unlike more manual demand response systems where the utilities are hoping their customers will turn down their appliances.

Demand response is a solution I have mentioned many times on this blog, and it was always my contention that an automated system, where devices listen to pricing signals from utilities, and respond accordingly, was the only way demand response would work well. It is great to see Comverge making that a reality.

Image credit Adam Rubock

REALLY Smart Meters!

Smart meter

Photo Credit yewenyi

Smart electricity meter projects are being rolled out all over the globe at this stage (here’s a map of the Smart Meter projects in the US), and with the Smart Meters, come Smart Grids and Demand Response programs whereby the utilities implement peak shaving programs (and in certain cases demand stimulation) to match demand and supply curves. This will lead to a more stable grid and therefore increase the amount of variable generators (i.e. weather based renewables) it is possible to add to the grid. Great.

However, this is not nearly ambitious enough as far as I am concerned. First off, as I have said previously, cheaper electricity typically has a higher % of renewables in the generation mix. Therefore, if I am getting a smart meter, I want it to be a very smart meter. I want my meter to be going out across the grid, checking the realtime price from all utilities and dynamically sourcing the energy from the cheapest supplier at any given time. Nothing too new there, I have written about that concept previously.

Taking that idea to the next level. Imagine if utilities were mandated to publish, not only the price of electricity in realtime, but also the generation mix. I could then have a Smart Meter which would actively chose the greenest electricity for me at any time. Or the one with the best price/renewables mix.

And if we had a SuperGrid in place, then that Green electricity might be coming from Danish windfarms, Icelandic geothermal generation or North African solar farms.

Now that would be a Really Smart Meter!

UPDATE – I have been asked the relevance of the photo above – it is subtle, anyone care to guess?

HP teaming with Xtreme Energetics to produce cheaper, more efficient cheaper solar

Photovoltaic array
Photo Credit Pink Dispatcher

James and I had lunch the other day with Simon Wardley.

During the course of what turned out to be a wide-ranging discussion Simon brought up the topic of flexible solar panels. I was delighted to read today then that Xtreme Energetics and HP are teaming up to produce

a solar energy system designed to generate electricity at twice the efficiency and half the cost of traditional solar panels

According to the piece, XP will use thin-film, transparent transistors developed by HP which are made from readily available materials such as Zinc and Tin – which have the added advantage of not having environmental issues.

Within 24 months, the company will release roof panels integrated with HP’s technology to deliver dramatic energy gains at a comparable price point to conventional PV systems, Colin Williams, CEO of Xtreme Energetics said. “Our panels will be twice as efficient, we’ll be able to deliver a higher energy density, and customers will have the option of choosing a color.”

The fact that the electronics are transparent means that more light gets through and thus the efficiency is further improved.

If these are truly transparent, south-facing windows on buildings could have these applied without significant impact on light entering the building. Ten at times when most energy is needed (sunny days when the aircon is turned up to 11), these transparent PV walls are cranking out the power to cool the building.

It is cheaper peak shaving – I like it.

Via

Energy Demand Management trials

Nissan Pathfinder Dash
Creative Commons License photo credit: navets

Energy Demand Management is a topic we have covered a few times on this blog already because we believe it will be a vital component in helping us better manage our energy resources in the future.

It is great then when you start to see utilities running successful trials of early EDM technologies. According to Francis Logan, Minister for Energy; Resources; Industry and Enterprise in Western Australia, the local energy company Western Power has run a successful EDM trial.

What Western Power did was to test the efficacy of one form of EDM called Peak Shaving where you lower the electrical requirements at times of maximum demand to reduce the ceiling load on the grid. They did so by running a summer trial where domestic air-conditioners were remotely switched off for a few minutes on hot days, resulting in a 27 per cent reduction in peak power use, without any significant loss of comfort for the home owners.

From the government statement:

“The results show that customers reduced their peak power use by 3.5kW when their device was activated,” Mr Logan said.

“This is the equivalent of using four microwaves or two pool pumps, it is a substantial saving.”

The Minister said it was the first time such a trial had been conducted in Western Australia.

“Providing non-intrusive ways of reducing energy consumption is a key to managing peak demand,” he said.

“WA’s peak energy use is primarily driven by air-conditioners, of which WA has a very high number.

In this test a switching device was installed in their refrigerative or reverse-cycle air-conditioners to allow Western Power to remotely turn off the compressor, but not the fan, for short periods of time on hot days. Switching was done six times during the trial, on days when the temperature reached 36C and usually between 3pm and 5pm.

This is a very positive outcome to the test but did not involve the deployment of smart meters as the switching was done by the utility.

Obviously a better long term solution will include easily programmable smart meters capable of controlling devices in the home based on dynamic energy pricing information coming from the grid and instructions given by the homeowner (if energy is cheap -> heat water, chill fridge, turn on dryer; if energy is expensive -> turn off dryer, turn off immersion, turn off fridge compressor).

However, rolling out a system like this will take time and money. Jeff Lee, IBM’s Asia Pacific lead for Intelligent Networks, speaking about a smart meter trial in New South Wales, said that a national rollout of a system similar to that being trialled, would require investments in infrastructure of as much as AU$100 billion dollars.

“You can’t replace the investment in electro-mechanical devices overnight. Gradually, substations will get changed to become IT-enabled. But then you have to build the communication infrastructure to do that. We’re talking about installing sensors on every light pole and on every transformer,” said Lee.