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Summary:

It’s blazing hot in New York City. And on these scorching summer days you should be thinking about everything your utility is doing to prepare for a “Heatpocalypse” and also taking note of just how important it is for utilities to invest in smart-grid technology.

100degrees

It’s baking in New York City, with temperatures hitting over 100 degrees (feels like 105 with the humidity), and excessive heat warnings are telling people to avoid strenuous activity outside. Over 10,000 people have checked in to “Heatpocalypse” on FourSquare. On these blazing summer days you should be thinking about everything your utility is doing to prepare for the Heatpocalypse and also taking note of just how important it is for utilities to invest in smart-grid technology.

Your utility actually spends years getting ready for days like this. When scorching heat sends people indoors to ratchet up their air conditioners, the demand for power spikes and constrains the grid in many regions. The grid needs to operate in a constant balance of supply and demand, so when demand zooms way up, utilities have a few stop gap measures to meet that load.

One way utilities meet these peaks, is by using on-demand generators. For example, PJM, a regional transmission organization serving a population of 51 million, commonly starts generators to control regulation as often as hundreds of times per day. On Thursday the Midwest Independent Transmission System Operator (MISO), which is responsible for the bulk power in a dozen states in the Midwest, issued an emergency alert and said the raging temperatures had stretched the load on its generators far more than it had predicted, reported CNN.

Just the day before, on Wednesday, MISO said that power demand had risen to its highest point ever in history at 103,975 MW, above the last record in the summer of 2006. Thanks to the trends of global warming and extreme weather, as well as population growth, it seems like these new demand records are just going to keep coming, so the power grid will be even more taxed in the future.

The answer to the already stretched power grid isn’t just to add more power generation, even if its clean power. It’s to build out the infrastructure of the smart grid to the point where utilities have many more options for shedding those power loads, doing it efficiently, and doing it in real time. Some utilities already do so-called demand response, where they ask companies, and even residential customers, to turn down power consumption of devices and appliances turning peak times.

But the reality is that demand response is largely a manual process right now. It could be far more automated — if smart, network connected thermostats and appliances, and energy algorithms could cut power loads for you (and you also saved money on it) then it would be far more effective. Adding more energy storage technology onto the grid would also help store on-demand power that could be available when demand spikes, reducing the need for generators.

Adding IT to the smart grid, just at the distribution automation portion (not connected to the home) will be a $10 billion revenue market by 2014, according to Pike Research. Smart meter infrastructure is another huge market, and Pike Research reported that global smart meter shipments were 17.4 million units for the first quarter of this year. For companies and VCs, that’s pretty hot.

Image courtesy of Daniel R Blume, and faster panda kill kill

  1. So I understand the need to shed load, but am I missing something. It seems that if the smart grid sheds load from Residents, what is the point of A/C at all, if the Utility has control of the thermostat. On the hotter days, we use more power, but in the smart grid, they would force less.

    what am I missing?

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    1. Great comment Jeremy. I think you represent many consumers out there with your observation of the smart grid and what it actually means. Demand response is the term used to shedding load from residents and “control of the thermostat”. However, forcing the consumer to decrease their load when it is not desired is clearly not the goal of this effort. Those involved in this market work on agreements with the consumer to shed their load on their terms. It would make terrible business sense for demand response businesses to force consumers to unwillingly decrease their load, especially on hot days.

      The most value of the smart grid, in my opinion, is providing utilities the capability to be more effective in optimizing the transmission and distribution of electricity over their lines. With improved sensor technology and other intelligent devices along the grid, utilities can become more efficient than they are today. In other words, they can supply consumers with the energy they need while requiring less production on the generation side.

      Therefore, the utilities save money and pass that to their consumers instead of controlling your devices in the home. The goal of the smart grid is to create this win-win scenario throughout the energy market value chain.

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    2. The soaring temps have forced me to be up this late to do laundry so as not to overheat the house during the daylight hours. I have reallocated my electric usage to another time slot. I use no more energy doing my laundry at night but I save on my energy usage by not over taxing the AC. I had similar savings with timers on hot water heaters. A little here and a little there leaves extra for my neighbor with the elderly parent or newborn child. I think the smart grid is a great concept. It almost makes me want to get involved!

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    3. Jeremy Robbins.
      You are missing that, for using less power you will pay more

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      1. @Casey – if you take part in a DSM (demand side management) program you get a discount from your utility, thus you pay less.
        @Lou – I commend you on timing your power usage, but vent your dryer outside in the summer and inside in the winter.
        Here’s a great new product solution for the “Smart Grid” : http://www.transverter.com/smart.html
        I’m looking forward to installing a bunch of these systems in the future as they will be a real compliment to my solar business.

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  2. Yeah, the only way it works is if they can shed load on a device I agree can be controlled “right now”.

    If I’m not at home and you need to knock off the AC for an hour, have at it. If I am at home and it’s sweltering, no dice.

    Right now I can’t even do that. Wife works nights and I work from home during the day … the AC is running full time as it is (it’s been 100+ for over a month where I’m at).

    We’ve taken steps to NOT do laundry or dishes during the day/early evening. We try not to cook at all … cold sandwiches and salads.

    We’re looking at another 6 weeks of this here in the KS OK TX region.

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  3. Imagine, if every roof, every driveway or every company or supermarket parking lot was covered with solar panel, how much relieve would be on distribution of the power.
    Also we need to find way to store of energy. It might be in form of hydrogen, new kind of batteries, or heat stored in melted salt.

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  4. Katie, I agree that the havoc created by record heat supports the need for a smarter grid. But I also think demand response needs more than IT advances to be a major driver of change toward that goal.

    As a former executive in a DR company (Enerwise) it’s become clear to me that the simple load curtailment model interferes with normal business operations and needs to be changed to provide real value to the grid and the energy consumer. For example this article about county employees complaining about AC shutdowns ran on the same day they participated in a curtailment event http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2011/07/21/bucks-county-employees-complain-of-air-conditioner-shutoffs-during-hot-weather/. C&I customers cannot “curtail” their way to energy savings success. To truly lower energy costs and help the grid, C&I energy customers need to augment load control with on-site, clean generation.
    During the recent heat wave curtailment activities by our clients (www.tangentenergy.com) were minimal because clean on-site generation was already reducing the amount of energy they needed from the grid. In rare cases when energy from the assets is not available or sufficient, our technology platform responds with automated efficiency measures. Our combination of technology and clean energy generation at the customer’s site relieves strain on large scale generation, transmission, and local distribution. An added benefit for customers on block and index or real time pricing is that our combination of on-site generation and energy efficiency technology also avoids high spot market energy prices. Most of all it relieves grid stress without disrupting normal operations for the customer.

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  5. Katie, I agree that the havoc created by record heat supports the need for a smarter grid. But I also think demand response needs more than IT advances to be a major driver of change toward that goal.

    As a former executive in a DR company (Enerwise) it’s become clear to me that the simple load curtailment model interferes with normal business operations and needs to be changed to provide real value to the grid and the energy consumer. For example this article about county employees complaining about AC shutdowns ran on the same day they participated in a curtailment event http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2011/07/21/bucks-county-employees-complain-of-air-conditioner-shutoffs-during-hot-weather/. C&I customers cannot “curtail” their way to energy savings success. To truly lower energy costs and help the grid, C&I energy customers need to augment load control with on-site, clean generation.

    During the recent heat wave curtailment activities by our clients (www.tangentenergy.com) were minimal because clean on-site generation was already reducing the amount of energy they needed from the grid. In rare cases when energy from the assets is not available or sufficient, our technology platform responds with automated efficiency measures. Our combination of technology and clean energy generation at the customer’s site relieves strain on large scale generation, transmission, and local distribution. An added benefit for customers on block and index or real time pricing is that our combination of on-site generation and energy efficiency technology also avoids high spot market energy prices. Most of all it relieves grid stress without disrupting normal operations for the customer.

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    1. Dean,
      As a former DR company executive, I’m guessing you are looking at the “Smart Grid” from a top-down perspective. Check out this company that is gearing up to make a run at the bottom-up approach. http://www.transverter.com/smart.html
      The guy that is doing it, Heart Akerson, basically created the inverter market in the 80′s (Heart Interface became Trace, which became Xantrex, which was recently bought by Schneider Electric).
      Their system is pretty much an infinitely controllable Grid-tied UPS capable of 2 kW up to 24kW (continuous in single, split, or 3-phase). It has multiple AC and DC inputs and outputs for solar, fuel cells, batteries, micro-turbines, generators, etc., and can control multiple AC loads on site. It can even supply surge power TO the grid for peak load shaving.
      I am really looking forward to working with these systems and finding applications to use their amazing versatility and potential.
      (I am not affiliated with them, but hope to be someday :)

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  6. Great insights into the expanding need for smart grid! In any of these programs, it is important to manage consumer demand response programs actively, while also managing consumer expectations. Most major smart grid investments will be unseen to consumers but will enable a second tier of sensor networks vital to optimizing distribution. With any of these emerging technologies or customer programs consumer response will be the primary driver as it reaches wide scale adoption. It is important to see positive gains, such as dealing with record temperatures, to further better energy management. Thank you for creating visibility to practical aspects of grid technologies. Feel free to visit my blog http://www.infosysblogs.com/smart-utilities Ben Edelbrock – Infosys

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