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PLMA Fall Conference Highlights Key Trends in the DR Industry

— December 2, 2016

Power Line Test EquipmentIn early November, the Peak Load Management Alliance held its annual fall conference in Delray Beach, Florida. Aside from the election excitement surrounding the conference, some interesting sessions and trends emerged from the meeting.

The conference agenda has expanded over time as more special interest groups have formed to tackle hot topics in the industry. Community storage and thermostat groups have been meeting for the past several conferences, and this year customer engagement and retail pricing groups were added to the mix. The retail pricing group had a lot of ground to cover and had to first define the boundaries of its scope, since pricing can become a very broad topic if not properly fenced. There was an interesting dichotomy between the public power agencies, which have freedom to offer whatever rates they please, and the investor-owned utilities, which must get regulatory approval for any new rate structures.

Rate Making at the Center

The full conference got underway with an opening panel on rate making. Edison Electric Institute moderated a group including NRG Curtailment Solutions, Georgia Power, Consolidated Edison, and the Independent System Operator of New England. The panel showcased a wide range of perspectives based on varying beliefs in the power of competitive markets, the coordination between retail and wholesale markets, and whether utilities should get directly involved in customer enablement or if it should be left to market players.

Next, some utilities explained their demand response (DR)/smart grid programs for residential customers. National Grid detailed its Smart Energy Solutions pilot in Worcester, Massachusetts, which provided smart thermostats and Wi-Fi gateways to customers. Old Dominion Electric Cooperative described how it went beyond hardware to obtain more DR from customers through innovative communication methods to encourage behavioral changes based on pricing and usage information.

I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on demand response management systems (DRMS) that included PECO, NV Energy, and Consumers Energy. Each of the utilities outlined their implementation experiences with different DRMS vendors and offered best practices and lessons learned to those in the audience who hadn’t yet gone through the process.

Varieties of DR

After lunch, a panel that included North Carolina Electric Membership Corporation, NB Power, ecobee, Portland General Electric, and Nest covered the topic of winter DR. Winter DR has garnered interest in northern climates as well as areas where natural gas constraints are causing a lack of electricity generation (i.e., New England, PJM, and California).

After a long election night, presenters provided a smorgasbord of ideas throughout the next day. Hawaiian Electric discussed the impact of energy storage in combination with automated DR. Duke Energy outlined lessons learned from a smart thermostat program that did not get the desired benefits. CPower navigated the muddy waters of DR in California. National Grid and Weatherbug Home explained how to leverage Internet of Things devices for customer engagement.

The conference closed with a thought-provoking session with speakers from NV Energy, Skipping Stone, Navigant, Alternative Energy Systems Consulting, and Joule Assets pontificating upon the future of the DR industry. I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again in Nashville in April for the next round.

 

US Drought Puts Spotlight on Demand Response Management Systems

— September 9, 2016

TabletThe extreme heat and drought that has engulfed much of the United States this summer has led to the most active demand response (DR) season in many years. Regional transmission organizations (RTOs) and utilities across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions such as PJM, Independent System Operator of New England (ISO-NE), and Consolidated Edison (Con Ed) all called upon DR to alleviate peak demands in excess of available generation resources or extraordinarily high real-time energy prices.

In the old days of DR, this process would have entailed a lot of phone calls and manual interactions that have a lot of failure points and a lack solid feedback mechanisms. As the scale of DR programs has increased, their operational reliability has become more critical and the choices of communication protocols and devices have expanded. There is a need for more centralized management and control, similar to what is done on the power generation side of the electricity market. Numerous vendors have come from many different angles to offer solutions that are categorized as demand response management systems (DRMSs).

Developing Vendor Offerings

DRMSs are developed to help utilities manage their DR programs and improve program ROI, though to date vendors indicate that the uptake of DRMSs has been slow. The core functions of DRMSs are to allow utility operators to view and add to the database of loads available for DR, to call events and/or issue pricing signals, and to perform the measurement and verification (M&V) after events to determine how much customers need to be compensated for reducing their load. In addition to this core functionality, there are many other functions and analytical tools that can be built upon this platform.

Outside of the strictly regulated utility construct, competitive retail energy suppliers have also offered DR programs to their electric commodity customers in order to provide more value and increase customer loyalty. The most striking examples are in Texas, where all customers must choose a competitive supplier as utilities are not allowed to provide supply services. Some retailers in the United States are active only in certain regional markets, while others have coverage in most—if not all—of the competitive markets. As with utilities, retailers could develop their own DRMS capabilities in-house, but in most cases it is not worth the effort. In recent years, Direct Energy has selected Siemens for its DRMS; NextEra Energy chose AutoGrid.

DRMS Drivers

The key drivers for advancing DRMSs include technical, policy, and economic factors such as DR program management, internal and grid cost reductions, and integration with other utility information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) systems. However, the slow rate of DRMS development points to the depths of barriers, such as system cost, integration complexity, and flexibility and interoperability limitations as being major hurdles to be overcome.

These trends and more are covered in Navigant Research’s new report, Demand Response Management Systems. Utilities are just starting to gain interest in DRMSs now, but as resources like solar and energy storage grow, DRMSs will act as a bridge to distributed energy resource management systems (DERMS).

 

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