Delivering the Promise of the Smart Grid

By Darren Brady, EnerNOC Inc.

Cell phones offer much more than mobile communication. Tailored applications allow users to access information and entertainment on the go. These applications unlock the full potential of cell phone technology and will drive most of its incremental value in the future. Now, think of the smart grid of the future. Today’s electric grid is old, outdated and needs an upgrade, but what applications will unlock its full potential? How will the industry evolve to a model that can capitalize on the full potential of distributed resources, fully responsive load and a massive fleet of electric vehicles?

A simple way to think about the smart grid and the role of applications is to compare the grid to the Internet. The Internet has two layers: infrastructure and application. So will the smart grid. The infrastructure layer will consist of a range of technologies, including advanced transmission and distribution hardware, advanced metering infrastructure and new communications networks. Infrastructure alone, however, will not make the grid smart. Applications must overlay the infrastructure to leverage the technology and increase energy productivity. The smart grid will need applications in the same way that Google’s search technology, Amazon’s ability to make pinpoint product recommendations and eBay’s auction platform create the value of the Internet.

Demand response (DR) is an example of such an application. Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, recently called demand response (DR) the first “killer application” of the smart grid. Technology-enabled DR is a valuable resource to utilities and grid operators. Achieving reliable, verifiable energy savings to address system contingencies or in response to market pricing is key to maintaining reliable service at the lowest cost. Technological applications that ensure reliable performance, deliver rapid dispatch, monitor consumption in real time, verify energy savings during DR events and make participation easy for end-use customers are instrumental to unlocking the full potential of this resource.

EnerNOC Inc. and other DR companies are deploying smart grid applications that enable commercial and industrial (C&I) and institutional customers to be active participants in the smart grid today. DR and energy efficiency applications deliver substantial benefits to C&I customers and utilities. Unlike residential DR, which can be somewhat plug-and-play, C&I customers have varied loads and specialized equipment that require industry-specific expertise and applications like EnerNOC’s monitoring-based commissioning, which uses data and advanced algorithms to deliver substantial low- or no-cost energy saving opportunities.

New applications in DR enable real-time communication through open, standards-based presence technology between almost any Internet-enabled smart meter or device. This innovation enables more predictable, dynamic and reliable distributed asset management and can also help with outage detection and voltage management. By facilitating integration with and interoperability among existing and future smart devices and back-office information technology systems, such an application is adaptable and future-ready.

The future for the smart grid is bright. While much of the attention is focused on the infrastructure that will be deployed, as with cell phones, advanced applications will deliver the improved electric system and more efficient energy markets that the smart grid promises.

Darren Brady is senior vice president and COO for EnerNOC Inc.

Sample Projects and Contracts

  • EnerNOC was selected by Phoenix-based Salt River Project (SRP) to provide up to 50 MW of DR capacity under a three-year contract.
  • The city of Boston joined EnerNOC’s DR network. The city will receive regular payments from EnerNOC in exchange for agreeing to reduce nonessential electricity usage during periods of peak demand. City hall, the Boston Public Library and the Boston Police Headquarters will be among the first city buildings to be enrolled.
  • EnerNOC has entered into an eight-year contract with Public Service Co. of Colorado, an Xcel Energy company, to provide up to 44 MW of DR capacity in Xcel Energy’s Colorado service territory.
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