Navigant Research Blog

Recapping the PLMA Spring Conference

Brett Feldman — May 2, 2016

Home Thermostat DialThe Peak Load Management Alliance’s Spring Conference was recently held in San Francisco from April 18 to 20. It felt great to be back in the Bay Area after having worked out there on the first generation of demand response (DR) programs to help avert rolling blackouts following the Enron mess. That saga is well in the past now, but DR continues to evolve and adapt to the changing market conditions due to technology, policy, and economic forces. Leading practitioners and visionaries in the industry were at the conference, trading opinions on several themes that coalesced as the event progressed.

The concept of integrated demand-side management was discussed from a couple of different angles. First off, there’s the combination of energy efficiency and DR program offerings based on enabling technologies like smart thermostats and targeting specific geographic territories. Utilities like NV Energy and Commonwealth Edison reviewed their thermostat experiences, while Consolidated Edison, Central Hudson, Pacific Gas & Electric, and National Grid explained how to drill down to the distribution level to address location-specific constraints. Successful implementation will require breaking through the traditional utility and regulatory silos that separate energy efficiency and DR operations and budgets.

Second, there was the concept of integrating DR with other distributed energy resources like energy storage and solar PV as a full-service offering for customers that addresses their concerns outside of technology silos. Hawaii and California were highlighted as areas that are dealing with this market shift in real time, leading to new operational system needs and program design structures.

Some of the early utility and vendor adopters of the BYOT, or Bring Your Own Thermostat, design concept—including Xcel Energy, SCE, Great River Energy, Nest, and EnergyHub—provided their best practices and lessons learned, while the audience pondered how quickly this model could go mainstream. There was a lot of discussion about the technical and operational barriers to bringing BYOT to scale and maximizing customer engagement without turning them off through excessive hoops to jump through. It was mentioned that the seemingly simple step of requiring a customer to provide a utility account number in order to sign up for a program dramatically reduces the likelihood of enrollment.

The next opportunity for DR thought leaders to convene will be the National Town Meeting on DR in Washington, D.C., running from July 11 to 13. It might not be as exciting as it was to be in D.C. last fall for the Supreme Court hearing on DR, but there should be plenty to talk about as the presidential election heats up.

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