Energy Efficiency

Honeywell, Opower link utilities with homeowners to stabilize grid

Honeywell and Opower introduced new technology that will help utilities attract more homeowners to voluntary programs that curb the demand for electricity, and help create a stable and effective energy grid without new power plants.

The Energy Management Platform drives program participation by giving homeowners the latest tools to easily balance comfort, convenience and cost. It also merges demand response and energy-efficiency programs for utilities — traditionally separate activities — to streamline deployment and management, and boost overall results.

According to a 2012 E Source survey of more than half of the demand response programs in the U.S., the average participation rate for residential customers is 13 percent. Honeywell and Opower expect the new platform to drive rates to at least 20 percent, a more than 50 percent increase, due to consumer-friendly features like mobile access to energy information and control. This would provide an additional 220 MW of peak shed capacity just to the utilities surveyed, equivalent to the output of more than four gas-fired peaking plants.

In addition, the platform uses proven measurement techniques to deliver ongoing, verifiable energy savings every day — savings widely accepted by regulatory agencies, which utilities can count toward their annual efficiency goals.

The Energy Management Platform combines Honeywell’s Wi-Fi thermostat and Akuacom utility management software with Opower’s interactive, cloud-based application to give homeowners the ability to view and adjust energy use from anywhere via smartphone or the Web.

Honeywell and Opower are currently testing the platform in a trial with Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), one of the largest utilities in the U.S., serving customers in northern and central California. As part of the trial, Honeywell and Opower are recruiting participants and installing more than 500 free thermostats to validate energy savings.

The goal is to gauge customer acceptance of and experience with the technology. The program is also intended to confirm the savings that are realistic for customers in PG&E’s diverse service area against the hypothesis that the thermostat and app will help save up to 5 percent of whole-house electricity and gas use. The trial will conclude in the first quarter of 2014, but PG&E has garnered initial findings, which were published in a recent report. So far, customers find the technology accessible and intuitive, and use it to actively manage comfort and consumption.

For utilities, the platform includes the Demand Response Automation Server (DRAS) from Akuacom, a Honeywell business, which creates a secure, two-way path between the utility operations center and residence, enabling utilities to temporarily control air conditioners and other equipment when energy use spikes and threatens grid stability, usually on the hottest weekdays of the year. It also gives real-time feedback on the impact of demand response events.