Managing the grid, one house at a time

This audio was created using Microsoft Azure Speech Services

// How much effect can it have on the grid to change the temperature in a single house? Not much, but with a coordinated effort, the difference can be huge. Wiser helps make it happen.

I live in the Chicago suburbs and it can get pretty hot here, but I tend to minimize my air conditioning use, as my family can attest. The thought of closing all the windows and turning it on when it is merely 87 or 89 seems wasteful. We should be made of tougher stuff, able to withstand a little sweat. But when we cross very far into the 90s, I stop putting up a fight.

Even though I know better, I’m contributing to the peak demand problem because I want to run my AC at the same time everybody else does. And if I listen carefully, I’m sure I can hear the five gas turbines of a nearby peaker plant starting to whine to keep up. OK, maybe that’s an exaggeration, but it’s basically true. Demand moves up with temperature, and that’s nothing new. The more heat there is, the more energy it takes to move it outside of our comfort zone.

Dave Hyland says this ratcheting up of consumption has a huge effect on utilities, stressing the grid and often soaking up every bit of available generating capacity. That isn’t news, but finding a solution has been difficult for utilities to implement, particularly when considering residential users. Demand response has become a major element of the picture, both for practical reasons and changes in regulatory strategy. As Hyland points out, in a state like Texas on a hot day, 40% of electrical demand is used to run air conditioning. Even a small incremental decrease of that load can have a major impact on the grid, especially if demand spikes can be flattened out. If a utility can avoid having to fire up one more generator in response to a spike, it can be a major saving. But getting individual residences to change behavior requires both a technical and attitudinal solution.

There are other complicating factors when a utility has to incorporate supply from renewable sources such as wind. While that’s a helpful bonus under many circumstances, wind often dies down when it’s really hot making the problem all the worse. That source can essentially stop when it’s needed most. Demand response becomes the only practical answer.

In his travels in the utility industry, Hyland has been watching a move to demand response techniques that are broad and immediate. Utilities need to make a change now, and the kind of demand management that is possible using Wiser energy management programs and thermostats deployed widely can bring things under control in a hurry. Using Open ADR 2.0 to communicate with individual smart thermostats in a large number of residences, a utility can move very quickly to balance loading. The advantages for a utility using this approach are huge.

Schneider Electric can help utilities deploy residential demand management programs, offering systems and hardware that can be provided to individual customers. It has the systems and products to be a one-stop supplier for all these kinds of solutions. When a utility can manage demand, it gives critical breathing space for managing the entire generation and distribution picture. The cost of outfitting 10, 20, or 40 thousand homes with Wiser energy management systems connected using Open ADR 2.0 is more appealing than building another peaker facility, and the effect can be a lot more immediate.

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