Navigant Research Blog

Opower Releases Behavioral Demand Response Results

— November 4, 2015

Opower, one of the largest providers of behavioral energy efficiency and demand response (DR) solutions to utilities, recently announced results from its latest behavioral DR (BDR) program this summer. The company reports that it deployed over 12 million personalized communications across 29 DR events, delivering 3% average peak reduction and over 5% savings for programs employing peak time rebate pricing plans. Utilities included Baltimore Gas and Electric, Commonwealth Edison, DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, Pacific Gas and Electric, and Hydro Ottawa.

This news underscores a growing trend of utilities looking to expand their demand-side management (DSM) programs through non-hardware-based methods in order to more cost-effectively engage a larger swath of their customer bases. With increased access to advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) smart meter data, electronic communication methods, and software-based tools, many companies are designing ways to use behavioral and analytical concepts in the energy industry that have been successfully implemented in other industry sectors.

Behavioral methodologies include ideas like home energy reports, which compare residential customers’ usage to their neighbors, and BDR, where customers get notifications when energy prices are high or when the grid is stressed. These methods rely on customer actions, as opposed to automated responses through hardware like thermostats or light bulbs. Such programs may capture less savings per customer than hardware, but due to a lower capital cost, they can be rolled out to many more customers to achieve a similar or greater aggregate impact.

Analytical tools like virtual energy audits and end-use disaggregation provide opportunities to greatly increase the effectiveness of DSM programs for commercial and industrial customers. As opposed to the standard practice of utilities sending energy engineers to do onsite audits of every building in order to determine energy savings potential, software programs can take in utility meter data and layer on facility characteristics and weather history to create an accurate picture of energy usage before stepping in the door. This allows for prioritization within a portfolio of buildings so that the highest-potential sites can be targeted first for further investigation, rather than random door-to-door approaches.

These types of programs are described in Navigant Research’s new report Behavioral and Analytical Demand-Side Management. The programs are still emerging, and there are barriers to overcome in order to reach large-scale deployment, but the path does appear favorable for success. Most of the activity currently comes from vendors and utilities in the United States, but it will soon spread to Europe, Asia, and beyond.


Feeling Homesick, or Just Sick from Your Home?

— November 4, 2015

Many studies by the U.S. Green Building Council (as well as other groups) show the importance of indoor air quality and the direct impact it has on occupant health. Sick building syndrome (SBS) affects many commercial and residential buildings—according to the World Health Organization, as much as 30% of the global building stock is affected. SBS includes a range of illnesses resulting from time spent in a polluted building. There are a variety of causes of SBS, from pathogens to particulate matter, from allergens to volatile organic compounds like formaldehyde.

With many Americans spending as much as 90% of their day indoors, it seems like a healthy indoor environment should be a greater concern for building managers. Yet for all the research being done on indoor air quality, there is a general lack of interest in rectifying the situation. Just as it is difficult to convince people of the importance of exercise, bad indoor air quality is a chronic health concern that many are loathe to devote energy to. It seems that an automatic system to regulate the indoor environment is needed.

Integrate with the New Environment

Outside of experimental and university studies, few systems exist that combine ventilation, filtration, and monitoring systems to optimize indoor air quality. The onus of combining data from expensive monitors with implemented solutions may not be one that already-overburdened building managers bother to handle. To be fair, there are a number of aspects to indoor air quality that interact in complex and often unexpected ways. The current trend to tighten a building’s envelope leads to less ventilation, ultimately trapping contaminants inside. Urea formaldehyde adhesives are popular in building materials, but the previously leaky buildings of the 1980s prevented the buildup of formaldehyde from becoming hazardous in most cases.

One way to rectify this buildup is to increase the ventilation rates of HVAC systems. However, increasing ventilation rates leads to an increase in energy use, oftentimes cancelling the energy savings gained from tightening the building in the first place. In addition, many commercial buildings experience wide variation in the levels of occupancy and activity of different zones, yet don’t have matching variable ventilation rates. CO2 sensors and other proxies of activity can be used to adjust ventilation to match occupancy, but advanced and integrated systems do not currently exist. It still falls on the building operator to do the bulk of adjusting ventilation.

Newer sensors are coming onto the market, such as the Beagle sensor, which promises data delivered remotely to homeowners at an affordable price. These sensors can deliver diagnostic feedback on light, noise, pressure, humidity, and air quality (primarily CO2). This makes it easy to monitor indoor air quality, but it does not offer a control feature. Many other multi-variable sensor units have entered the marketplace in the past 5 years, such as the Air Quality Egg and CubeSensors. However, none of these products integrate easily with HVAC systems already present in homes and buildings, making controlling indoor air quality a hassle for building owners.

More data is available on the quality of indoor environments than ever before. There is a huge opportunity to integrate this data into control systems and improve the indoor environment. Watch for Navigant Research’s upcoming Indoor Environmental and Air Quality report for further analysis of this market.


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