EPRI releases open, standards based software, to connect smart homes to the smart grid

Smart Appliance Screen

Automated Demand Response (ADR) is something we’ve talked about here on GreenMonk for quite a while now. And in other fora, at least as far back as 2007.

What is Automated Demand Response? Well, demand response is the process whereby electricity consumers (typically commercial) reduce their usage in response to a signal from the utility that they are in a period of peak demand. The signal often takes the form of a phone call.

Automated demand response, as you would imagine, is when this procedure is automated using software signals (often signals of price fluctuation). The development of ADR technologies received a big boost with the development of the OpenADR standard, and the subsequent formation in 2010 of the OpenADR Alliance to promote its use.

Consequently, EPRI‘s recent announcement that it has developed automated demand response software, is to be welcomed.

In their announcement EPRI say the new software will:

provide a common way for devices and appliances on the electric grid to respond automatically to changes in price, weather, and demand for power, a process called automated demand response (ADR).

ADR makes it possible to translate changes in wholesale markets to corresponding changes in retail rates. It helps system operators reduce the operating costs of demand response (DR) programs while increasing its resource reliability. For customers, ADR can reduce the cost of electricity by eliminating the resources and effort required to achieve successful results from DR programs.

The EPRI ADR software was certified by the OpenADR Alliance. “Making this software freely available to the industry will accelerate the adoption of standards-based demand response” said Mark McGranaghan, vice president of Power Delivery and Utilization at EPRI.

This software has the potential to finally bring the smart grid into the home, allowing smart appliances to adjust their behaviour depending on the state of the grid. Some manufacturers have been fudging this functionality already with a combination of internet connected devices and cloud computing resources (see Whirlpool 6th Sense device above). And others, like GE are planning to bring older appliances into the connected fold, by sending out wifi modules that add new sensor capabilities.

Connecting appliances to the grid has the ability to make them far smarter. We’ll be discussing this, and more IoT topics in far more detail at ThingMonk, our upcoming Internet of Things event, in Denver next month. Hope to see you there.


Ford’s thinking on Electric Vehicles

Thomas Edison And Henry Ford
Photo of Thomas Edison and Henry ford courtesy of Ford Motor Company

Recently I spoke with Greg Frenette, the manager of Ford’s Electric Vehicle program and he filled me in on just how long Ford have been working on electric vehicles and vehicle-to-grid technologies. Although not as long as may be indicated in the photo above, Ford’s Advanced Engineering Research group have been working on concepts with respect to plug-in hybrids since 2005.

Ford’s initial utility partners in their plug-in hybrid program were Southern California Edison but they soon expanded the program to include the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) as well as a grouping of 10 utilities and research organisations across North America.

This quarter Ford will complete the build-out and deployment to the partner organisations of their fleet of 20 plug-in hybrid Escape’s. These vehicles are demo’ing real world vehicle-to-grid interconnectivity. According to Greg they have

a prototype communication control system on the vehicle which works with a Smart Meter, through the use of wireless Zigbee technology, to give the vehicle owner control and direction in how they access the charge

Part of this limited roll-out is to look closely at the bigger infrastructure issues – what does it mean to introduce EVs onto the grid? What standards will be adopted? What upgrades will be necessary in technology & infrastructure to connect these vehicles both at home and in public to the grid?

Speaking about the integration of the vehicles onto the grid, Greg said:

We can envision how the car will be integrated into the smart home of the future and how the home-owner would have the ability to make trade-offs and decisions that involve the vehicle as well as the energy budget for the rest of the household

It is spectacular to hear that (at least one of) the car manufacturers is thinking about the implications of the rollout of smart grids, realtime pricing tariffs and integrating electric vehicles onto the grid. As I have said before, if a country has a large fleet of electric vehicles, they have the capacity to act as a distributed battery for energy storage at even greater than utility scales. In fact, the Rocky Mountain Institute goes further when they say:

Utilities sell a disproportional amount of their power on hot summer afternoons. At night, business plummets. For the utility, that means their expensive generation and transmission equipment stands idle. “Night-charging” vehicles, therefore, could be a lucrative twist on the business of selling electrons.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory recently estimated that if half the nation’s light vehicles were ordinary plug-in hybrids they would represent a night-charging market of 230 gigawatts. That’s good news for the U.S. wind industry. In many areas, wind tends to blow harder at night, creating more energy when the vehicles would be charging.

With full vehicle to grid integration those same vehicles could sell back some of their energy to the grid on those hot summer afternoons, when electricity is expensive and potentially prevent the firing up of more expensive and dirty generation.

Even better was that Greg brought up something most others shy away from discussing – the old data ownership question! According to Greg Ford believes that:

The consumer is a key stakeholder when it comes to the data. The communications control capability has to be part of the total value equation to the automotive consumer as well as the energy consumer. Ford is looking for win-win solutions between utility industry, between the auto industry that ultimately provide increased value to both of our customers

Ford wants an open architecture communication solution which has to have “direct consumer applicability, marketability and value to be worthwhile”.

If Ford succeed in rolling out that vision, I’ll be first in line!

Ford are introducing the first fully electric cars to the market in 2010 – 2011 while their first plug-in hybrids will come to market in 2012.

Ford are also looking beyond electric vehicles. They have had a fleet of 30 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles on-road with customers since 2005 with over 1,000,000 miles on them. Ford see electric as a medium term solution to sustainable transport but hydrogen as the longer term goal.

Personally, I’m not convinced about the viability of hydrogen as a solution – especially if IBM can crack the lithium air battery they are working on.


The Electricity 2.0 revolution has begun

Smart meter projects globally

This is a map of current smart meter/smart grid projects globally overlaid on Google maps.
Screenshot credit Me(!)

I wrote my first Greenmonk post about Smart Grids and Demand Response back in April 2008 and followed up with a few more in the next few weeks including one in June 2008 where I said the electrical distribution system needed to be more like the Internet. Those posts were extremely cutting edge at the time but the world has caught up considerably in the last 18 months due in no small part to the election of Barack Obama and the focus on energy efficiency in his stimulus package!

Under Obama’s administration the US Dept of Energy announced in June of this year the rules for $3.9billion in Smart Grid stimulus grants. The first winners of $3.9 billion in smart grid stimulus grants will be announced in mid-November according to DOE deputy press secretary Jen Stutsman.

In a very positive move earlier this week, US Energy Secretary Steven Chu endorsed the importance of Demand Response as part of the solution when he said that electricity costs should move to reflect demand. Secretary Chu went further though arguing for the kind of automated Demand Response we have proposed here on GreenMonk when he said:

“Price signals do matter, but you can’t just simply use a price signal,” Chu said. “You really have to make it very easy to save energy.”

Consumers need to have a very simple system that will provide them with specific information about their energy use and they should be able to adjust their appliances so that they run mostly during non-peak energy hours

Adrian Tuck, CEO of Tendril announced last week that mass market home energy management is three years away. Obviously, being the CEO of a company in the space, he would say that, wouldn’t he? But looking at the slew of announcements which came out of the Gridweek conference (see below) it is hard to fault his optimism.

And just yesterday U.S. Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) presented for public comment a major new report on Smart Grid interoperability standards. The approximately 90-page document [pdf] identifies about 80 initial standards that will enable the vast number of interconnected devices and systems that will make up the US Smart Grid to communicate and work with each other.

You know that the administration is taking Smart Grids seriously when the Commerce Secretary presents for public comment a report on standards!

This week saw the GridWeek conference happening in Washington DC and with it a massive slew of Smart Grid related news. I’ll try to do a quick round-up of the main stories:



Smart Cities


Other Announcements

With finance, administration backing and so many announcements (many of which are worthy of blog posts in their own right) there is no doubt but that the Smart Grid train has well and truly left the station. There are still a significant number of issues to be addressed by companies involved in the Smart Grid space. Some companies will founder, some deployments will fail (esp as utilities are notoriously bad at customer communications!) but there is no doubt that finally the Electricity 2.0 revolution has begun – there’s no turning back now.