Coauthored by Paul Moran
As we discussed in our last blog, demand response (DR) in the natural gas sector has been less prevalent in the natural gas industry than in the electricity industry due to the lack of clear market signals that otherwise would enable market participants to put a price on deferred natural gas consumption. However, changing market factors are leading to increased interest in the practice. There are several utilities currently running innovative natural gas DR programs to discern the value of it alleviating system constraints.
Rebates for Home Heating
This year, Southern California Gas (SoCalGas) launched a natural gas DR program called the SoCalGas Advisory Thermostat Program, partially in response to supply concerns related to a leak at its Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility. It offers program participants up to $50 in rebates while helping them reduce natural gas costs for home heating. To be eligible for the rebate, program participants agree to allow minor adjustments to their smart thermostat settings on days when a SoCalGas Advisory conservation event is called. SoCalGas manages the ecobee thermostats and makes adjustments remotely, using a software platform developed by EnergyHub. Participants are notified before any adjustments occur. This represents the first rebate program of this type offered by a natural gas utility for gas heating.
Interruptible Gas Has Its Perks
Xcel Energy has an interruptible gas program for large commercial and industrial customers that does not include physical control of the gas supply by the utility. It is used to allay pipeline or distribution constraints as well as economic concerns when gas prices increase or spike. Customers get a notice one hour prior to the need and then it is up to them to decide what to curtail or whether to go on a backup fuel supply. It can be isolated to certain geographic areas on the system rather than an all-or-nothing approach.
Pilot Programs in New England
The New England region is at the literal end of the gas pipeline infrastructure and is at risk of experiencing more supply shortages than other areas of the country. Even before the polar vortex, the Independent System Operator of New England instituted a winter fuel supply program, including winter DR. Some of the Massachusetts utilities have undertaken pilot programs with smart thermostat vendors like Nest to test the natural gas DR theory with residential customers by changing heating setpoints. The programs have not yet moved beyond the pilot stage.
Although the absence of a clear price signal is a significant impediment to the adoption of natural gas DR, these innovative programs demonstrate that utilities have a strong interest in exploring its promise to provide a less expensive means of alleviating pipeline constraints. In our final blog of this series, we will discuss how National Grid is exploring new applications for natural gas DR to reduce peak load and improve system efficiency across its service territory.