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Demand Response & Efficiency: Why Can’t They Get Along?

Marianne Hedin — April 3, 2012

It seems only logical that demand response and energy efficiency should go hand-in-hand.  Both spring from concerns about energy usage and aim to accomplish the same outcome, i.e., energy reduction.  But reality doesn’t always follow logic.

Instead, often the two concepts are pursued by different departments and individuals within a utility.  What’s worse, the two organizations in some cases do not even speak to each other. Although demand response contributes to lower energy use, its main goal is not to achieve energy efficiency.  Rather, it aims to reduce the use of electricity on a temporary basis at a specific time (i.e., in times of peak demand, typically within hours or minutes) in order to balance the grid to avoid power shortages.  By contrast, the main objective of energy efficiency or conservation programs is to reduce electricity consumption on a long-term basis with the help of various energy efficiency measures.

Still, there is a strong interrelationship between demand response and energy efficiency.  In the residential sector, demand response is typically a standalone program that aims to achieve 1 kilowatt (kW) and perhaps up to 2.5 kW of energy reduction from the average household – sometimes through a smart thermostat or a load-control switch on an air-conditioning system.  This often requires incentives from the utility.  But when demand response is integrated with behavioral-based energy efficiency programs to raise customers’ awareness about energy conservation, interest in participating in demand response programs improves significantly.  According to Tendril, “When the ground is first seeded with behavioral-based efficiency programs that begin the energy awareness cycle of consumers – by delivering personalized, relevant information about energy use, the ability for them to set an energy savings goal and measure their progress towards that goal in an active learning environment – consumers can then opt in to more complicated energy management programs that include demand response.”

It is quite possible that the demand response and energy efficiency departments have more in common than they realize or are willing to admit.  Better-informed customers may be the link to integrate the two energy efficiency and demand response camps together.  By educating consumers about the benefits of participation and improving their access to detailed data about their energy use and performance, both groups will essentially seek to achieve the same goal – an educated, well-informed and motivated energy consumer.  Indeed, some utilities have already begun to take steps to bring the two initiatives closer together.  For example, industry sources tell me that some have recently appointed a director to head both the demand response and energy efficiency programs in order to coordinate efforts to benefit both and to leverage each other’s skills and know-how.  Instead of working at cross purposes, utilities should make every effort to create synergies between the two organizations so that they can truly work in unison to achieve new and improved energy efficiency and demand response behaviors.

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