It’s mid-July and Bakersfield, CA is hitting temperatures most often seen on the surface of the sun. Cooling loads across the Central Valley are at full blast and the overall electricity demand starts to approach the total available supply generated by online power plants. Utilities have two options: bring additional “peaker” power plants online, which are expensive for ratepayers and terrible for the environment, or trigger a demand response event. In a demand response event, utilities pay customers to reduce their electric load for a temporary period, lessening the strain on the grid and avoiding additional generation requirements. While one might understandably assume paying customers not to use their product might not be an ideal business plan, peaker plants are so expensive that paid demand response programs are actually cost-saving for utilities. So, utilities save money, California air quality gets a bit of a break, and customers get paid to participate – a win for all involved. The question becomes how to make sure utilities can rely on consistent participation in demand response events, and how to make participation as easy and beneficial for customers as possible. This is where Automated Demand Response (ADR) comes in.
Instead of relying on a facility staff member to turn off lights, reset temperature setpoints, or enact other load shed measures during each event, we work with customers in the Pacific Gas & Electric Company (PG&E) ADR Program to pre-determine what an effective and responsible load shed strategy is for their facilities. We can help make sure a load shed strategy does not disrupt business operations or cause undue occupant discomfort, and at the same time captures as much load shed as possible and is more consistent than a manual response. Customers then work with vendors to program that strategy into a facility control system. Once PG&E calls an event, the control system automatically engages the pre-determined strategy and the facility sheds electric load. Customers see more consistent participation (which typically translates to higher financial compensation) and take the responsibility off the shoulders of busy facility managers. Across an entire portfolio of customers, ADR helps PG&E be better able to predict curtailment potential and rely on consistent participation in its existing programs. The piece that makes this all possible is the Demand Response Automation System (DRAS).
While the actual response to a DR event takes place at the site level when a control system enacts measures to reduce electricity consumption, a truly automated system also requires a way for a utility to automatically notify those control systems to trigger measures and start shedding electric load. For California investor-owned-utilities including PG&E, this notification mechanism is a communications network using OpenADR, an open standards protocol developed for the express purpose of enabling Automated Demand Response. The DRAS server, built by Akuacom, is the top node in the network, and communicates OpenADR signals via the Internet to all of the different devices installed at participating customers’ facilities. The DRAS is able to manage multiple ADR programs simultaneously across a complicated web of customers. We work with PG&E, Akuacom, OpenADR device vendors, and customers to get this network up and running, helping to troubleshoot and provide technical support to make sure customer client devices are configured correctly and can talk to the DRAS.
So how does this work in practice? Let’s go back to our scenario of July in the Central California Valley. PG&E or CAISO has determined that today is hot enough and the grid may be strained enough that a demand response event is required. At Energy Solutions, we will be working all day to coordinate the event and make sure all parts are running smoothly. Client devices will talk to the DRAS every minute to receive event information – start and end times, signal levels, and which clients are included in the event. While the sites themselves will shed load automatically, we will work with PG&E and Akuacom to make sure the events are created correctly, all sites receive the OpenADR event signal, and all customers are aware of the event. If a customer needs to adjust their participation that day or won’t be able to participate at all, we’ll work with them to make that happen. At the end of the day, when temperatures cool and electricity demand drops, most ADR customers will have just made money, been a good corporate citizen by helping ease strain on the grid, and helped lessen the environmental impact of electricity generation in California, all without disrupting their business or requiring them to take action.
In the future the DRAS will help PG&E enable faster demand response so that customers can respond not just to events that are schedule days or hours in advance, but to real-time programs and constantly changing electricity prices to manage their electricity usage year-round. This is the real promise of Automated Demand Response. Energy Solutions is working to help utilities realize that potential and make demand management an even bigger part of the California energy landscape.