In the past, utility customers were simply energy consumers, power flow was one way from generation to load, and demand was fairly predictable. This situation has inverted, as consumers are becoming energy producing and storing “prosumers”, with the resulting bi-directional flow of power and variability in demand. Add to this the increased variability from renewable generation sources as well as the desire to shave peak loads via demand response, and the challenges in providing reliable, safe, and efficient energy increase exponentially. Utilities are seeking better ways to engage with customers and manage and optimize these new levels of complexity.
There are multiple solutions emerging, using a variety of advanced computational methods in centralized, distributed, and hybrid processing environments. Accurate forecasting is essential, for predicting load, contribution from renewables, fuel prices, and energy prices. Energy storage capacity, whether accomplished via batteries, pumped hydro, compressed air, or related technologies also plays a significant role. Related to this are techniques for building precooling or preheating when energy costs are lower.
Once the energy inputs, outputs, and capacities are established, utilities must work with solution providers and customers to determine the best technologies, interfaces, architectures, and infrastructures to forecast, manage, and optimize energy storage and interchange. Utilities must establish rate structures as well as policies for methods of engagement, degrees of control, and secure communications with customers.
Some consumers are more proactive than others. Energy management needs to be easy and engaging, without impacting the customer more than the customer is willing to accept. Utilities and customers need to balance whether demand management events are initiated by the utility or by the customer, and executed automatically or only after customer approval.
If you are planning on attending DistribuTECH this year, I encourage you to stop by the Schneider Electric booth and see our integrated customer engagement and demand side management offerings including Wiser Residential Energy Management, Energy Profiler Online, Struxureware Demand Side Operations, SmartStruxure Building Management System, ION meters, and our Advanced Distribution Management System. I along with others at Schneider Electric look forward to talking with you about proactive customer engagement solutions as well as other emerging trends in the utility industry and best practices for preparing for them.