On a sunny summer day in Los Angles, a thousand air conditioners might easily turn on at the exact same moment. That would elicit a surge of electrical power to get all of those compressors running, driving up what is known as peak demand. Typically, a power plant must have enough capacity to meet that demand whenever it occurs. That requires the power plant to be much larger than what is needed most of the time, which makes it inherently less efficient. But if starting those thousand air conditioners could be spread out — using tiny delays, over a period of less than a minute — that would reduce peak demand, and the required plant capacity, considerably.
This is the idea behind demand management, an essential element of a smart grid architecture. Overall, a smart grid relies on a number of elements from the various domains. Generation includes the various sources and generating types, both variable and non-variable. Distribution includes storage, switches and transmission lines. Both of these domains have become smarter through the use of technology to control, measure and record the amount of power passing through them, as well as to protect the various elements from surges or overloads.
The customer domain is regulated primarily through the smart meter, which helps the user to optimize efficiency and manage demand. Software applications like MyMeter, from Accelerated Innovations LLC, help to “empower electric, gas, and water utilities and their customers to better manage end-use demand and consumption. It’s the engaging, intelligent connection that transforms meter data into insights for action.”
If knowledge is power, MyMeter provides power in that form, to both the customer and the utility, about the other kind of power being provided and consumed — allowing each to optimize their own interests.
What this application does for utilities is to make the connection between demand, consumption and cost visible to the customer. It also gets the customer more involved in the management of his or her consumption. This can be further enhanced with games, challenges and providing comparisons with neighbors. By keeping demand from spiking, the utility avoids the need to build additional capacity or run inefficient “peaker” plants. It also provides a convenient way for the utility to communicate with customers in a timely manner and to collect certain types of information that can be used for targeted marketing.
What it does for the customer is to provide a powerful set of tools to engage with and better understand the relationship between their consumption choices, their carbon footprint and the bills they receive. It helps to prevent surprises and provides incentives like the “Energy Challenge.” Tools like interactive charts help to identify unseen problems and wasteful usage patterns. MyMeter also allows customers to work with utilities to help diagnose problems.
Overall, the software has been independently verified to deliver energy savings between 1.8 and 2.8 percent in a study that included four Minnesota utilities: Beltrami Electric Cooperative, Wright Hennepin, Lake Region Electric Cooperative and Stearns Electric Association.
Mark Vogt, president and CEO of Wright Hennepin Electric said: “The thing that always frustrated me is that we could never help people understand what a kilowatt hour was. It’s our unit of sale, but it’s not something that the customers can get their hands around or could really understand … In my career, [MyMeter is] the first tool that we’ve been able to provide our consumers that helps demystify the kilowatt-hour.”
The idea that feedback data can help change behavior is one that is gaining ground, whether it’s using apps like FitBit to reduce your waistline or those like MyMeter, or its competitors Opower or C3 Energy to reduce your carbon footprint. With tools like these in hand, consumers and businesses alike will be in a position to reduce their energy bills and their impact on the planet.
Image courtesy of Accelerated Innovations LLC
RP Siegel, PE, is an author, inventor and consultant. He has written for numerous publications ranging from Huffington Post to Mechanical Engineering. He and Roger Saillant co-wrote the successful eco-thriller Vapor Trails. RP, who is a regular contributor to Triple Pundit and Justmeans, sees it as his mission to help articulate and clarify the problems and challenges confronting our planet at this time, as well as the steadily emerging list of proposed solutions. His uniquely combined engineering and humanities background help to bring both global perspective and analytical detail to bear on the questions at hand.
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