Utilities, Customers Can Benefit From Intelligent Demand Response

The Internet of Things (IoT), Grid of Things (GoT), smart cities and electric utilities/electricity providers are at the heart of the transformation to an ecosystem of connected and interoperable devices.

One result of the convergence of the IoT and a GoT is the emergence of smart cities that are becoming “smart” as they incorporate networks’ digital devices and connectedness into their infrastructures to improve and better manage electricity and natural gas infrastructure, water resources, transportation, building efficiency and much more.

The convergence of the Internet of Things and Grid of Things creates opportunities for utilities and their customers to become more sustainable, lowering their carbon footprints and exploring and finding areas where they can work together to optimize resources. Utilities, for their part, are increasingly eyeing intelligent demand response (DR) programs that extend beyond traditional metrics for DR and energy efficiency (EE) programs—such as the number of consumers that opt-in and/or total load shed—to deliver enhanced savings, efficiency, and convenience to customers.  

A key component of emerging intelligent DR programs is the ability to integrate and utilize data from the growing ecosystem of connected home devices such as smart thermostats, appliances and hot water heaters – along with hyper-local weather data that can help utilities anticipate demand through more precise load forecasting, and consumers better understand the impact of weather on their homes. For utilities considering the launch of IoT-centric DR and EE programs, there are a few key capabilities worth considering:

Integration of connected home devices with neighborhood-level weather data

Fifty percent of a home’s energy usage is driven by the weather, and DR programs that are unable to account for the impact of weather on each customer’s home miss a significant opportunity to ensure maximum load shed and customer comfort.  By leveraging technologies able to correlate indoor to outdoor conditions to create a unique thermodynamic model for every home, utilities can determine how each home reacts to changing real-time weather conditions as related to energy use.

Creating a thermodynamic model of the home enables more intelligent demand response as the model output is then correlated to current weather conditions to create the most accurate load forecast, while allowing for utilities to efficiently optimize connected thermostats to pre-cool and pre-heat homes while shaving peak load, and still meet the customer’s personal comfort requirement. Integrating real-time local weather data has shown to deliver higher accuracy predicting HVAC load and indoor temperatures; 26 percent run-time prediction accuracy improvement; and 8% temperature prediction improvement.

Optimizing comfort while reducing usage

In June 2016 Michigan State University unveiled research finding that more than half of potential energy savings from energy efficient homes can be lost if consumers don’t know how to use the buildings properly. Study author and MSU professor Dr. Dong Zhao makes the point that, “if an air conditioner achieves its highest efficiency at 72 degrees, but the resident likes it set at 68 degrees, there will be a lost value of energy savings.”

Indeed, investments in smart thermostats and lights, solar panels and water heaters, as well as more energy efficient HVAC systems and windows can be undone if inhabitants aren’t using these green home products correctly.   

The MSU study reinforces the need for utilities and smart home providers to automate energy efficiency processes to remove the burden from consumers who still struggle to determine the best way to optimize smart thermostats and other connected home devices. Commenting on the research, Dr. Zhao adds that, “”you could buy the greenest house on the market, yet your personal habits could waste more than 50 percent of your energy savings.”

Increasing smart home automation can drive more intelligent DR that maximizes the benefits of these programs for both utilities and their customers.  

Management of connected home devices

Utility and customer benefits of a connected home increase as more devices and capabilities are built in – assuming they can be seamlessly integrated. Intelligent demand response becomes more “intelligent” when utilities add not just thermostats but washer & dryers, hot water heaters and plug load devices to reduce the coincident peaks.

An integrated ecosystem of connected home devices also can help utility customers reduce energy use in the summer and other periods of peak demand (reducing regional energy costs), protect the environment by lowering emissions, and support state and local energy initiatives. For example, by learning customer preferences and energy usage patterns as it correlates to changing weather conditions, utilities can optimize connected thermostat and appliance set-points to reduce energy use during peak hours, while ensuring customer comfort and satisfaction.

About the author: Amena Ali is senior vice president and general manager of the WeatherBug Home business unit at Earth Networks, and Carlos Nouel is National Grid’s leader of the New Energy Solutions division



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