Power Engineering

Raising Energy Awareness through Demand Response Technology

Greg Myers   By Greg Myers, vice president, Sensus

Energy Awareness Month in October is a national effort to promote smart energy choices that literally puts power in the hands of consumers.

Yes, simple actions such as turning off the lights or adjusting the thermostat can significantly lower energy bills and environmental strain, but what if consumers had more information about their energy usage - would they make more intelligent decisions?

There are many vehicles used by utilities to promote energy awareness and conservation to their customers. Flyers stuffed into mailed monthly bills, energy audit opportunities and top ten conservation tips on utility websites are common.

As technology has evolved, so have the approaches that utilities can use to encourage, or in some cases, enable conservation through Demand Response (DR) systems.

Demand Response systems for electric grids promote sustainable energy usage among both utility companies and their customers, while also allowing utilities to control energy demand. DR technologies also help utility personnel communicate directly to customers. Through DR systems for electric grids, customers can use smart thermostats, consumer portals on their home computer or mobile application, and in-home display devices to monitor and better understand their electricity usage. All of this has been made possible through the deployment of AMI that provides real-time usage data at a finer granularity than ever possible.

Demand Response systems send usage information to both utilities and their customers via Home Area Network (HAN) devices such as smart thermostats and in-home display devices communicating directly to the electric meters via ZigBee or through the internet over home computer and mobile applications fed from the head end of the AMI system. This allows consumers to personally monitor their energy usage via online portals and better understand how much electricity they are regularly consuming.

Consider how much energy an individual uses on a daily basis. Everyday tasks such as keeping a home at a cool temperature and lighting several rooms at a time may seem harmless in the moment, but over time, the costs add up. By opting to remain unaware of energy usage habits and exact consumption data, consumers are wasting money and resources. With DR technology, utility customers can make more intelligent energy decisions, as well as receive greater control over their electricity purchases.

Once consumers start reducing the amount of electricity they use, power companies will be able to reallocate the electricity they produce, and be able to factor the effectiveness of their DR programs into their decision making process for developing new generation, using renewable, or offering even more DR programs.

DR programs are also a powerful tool when blackouts occur during times of peak demand, particularly during extreme weather conditions. Without DR systems in place, utility companies are often faced with operating power plants at full capacity when demand for electricity spikes, and paying more for peak energy on the spot market. DR technology allows electricity users to reduce consumption in response to power requirements potentially eliminating or stalling the need for additional generating requirements and providing more predictable energy market purchases.

The widespread implementation of demand response systems could significantly reduce usage by educating users on their current consumption patterns.

In 2011, the U.S. Green Building Council granted LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating credits to companies that implement DR programs into their buildings. LEED certified buildings have official verification of energy efficiency and therefore often provide healthier environments for residents or tenants. As concerns about environmental sustainability continue to take root among Americans, so does the appeal and ultimately, necessity for LEED accreditation.

DR programs can sense imminent demand load problems and reduce electricity usage in high-consumption places, removing the chance of overload and resulting power failures.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, commercial and industrial buildings with a peak demand load greater than 200 kW (kilowatt) have a significant impact on energy demand and electricity grid stability in general, especially in urban and business areas with many commercial buildings or industrial operations.

As the world's population continues to grow, so does the need for energy. With Energy Awareness Month upon us, there is no time like the present for utilities and consumers to take control of their electricity usage.

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