Smart home automation is the key to demand flexibility – Utility Dive

Smart home automation is the key to demand flexibility – Utility Dive

The topic of home automation has been on the rise for the past decade as consumers have embraced technology ranging from smart speakers to doorbell cams and smart thermostats. For the most part, home automation has relied on devices that are connected to the Internet but not necessarily each other, and automation to reduce demand has generally been based on some very basic, fixed inputs such as time of day or occupancy. 

Concurrently, utilities have been grappling with an ever increasing supply of renewable energy sources, which has been a net positive for carbon reduction, but poses engineering and pricing challenges due to intermittent supply. 

Grid operators and utilities alike have tended to focus on demand response as a demand side solution for these challenges. In the residential sector, demand response has relied disproportionately on thermostat control during periods of peak demand or when outages become a real possibility. These programs have delivered on their intention, but they will not be sufficient for realizing the audacious, yet critically important, goals of carbon neutrality and electric reliability. 

As the electric industry ponders ways to solve these big challenges, demand flexibility has emerged as a bit of a North Star. Rather than event based curtailment, demand flexibility promises continuous automation of demand side loads to better calibrate them to renewable energy supply.

So why has demand flexibility not been achievable to date and why do we not see tangible steps to achieving this objective in most utility resource plans?

For one, the residential sector still lacks scaled-up solutions for aggregating all loads in the home into one connected and controllable interface. Smart home and IoT standards have fallen short of connecting devices in the home and providing energy data that could benefit utilities.

Second, utilities have never had the tools to interact with customers on a real time basis, whether that be dynamic price and carbon impact signals or continuous feedback on energy usage or solar production. Because of this gap, customer engagement has remained low. 

And third, grid operators and utilities alike still lack confidence in planning around loads that they cannot directly control, which has limited their inclusion in resource plans and program portfolios. 

But things are changing as recent innovations in home energy monitoring and consumer oriented automation shift the paradigm for demand flexibility. Sense is leading the current generation of smart home automation by providing a whole home view that identifies and tracks multiple loads simultaneously. 

Consider the impact of a whole home view. As consumers adopt rooftop solar in states like California, being able to track their own home energy usage and solar power production simultaneously in a smart home app can make them powerful allies in reaching climate change goals mandated by regulators. Once customers have personal insights about their home energy in real time, they know why and when to move variable loads into high solar times or outside of peak demand periods. Rather than simply controlling customers’ thermostats, utilities can identify significant residential loads, communicate with customers about them, and incentivize a wider range of customer behaviors, introducing far more flexibility to residential demand.

Demand flexibility can have implications for service offerings, as well. Today customers must sort through complicated time of use rate schedules and adapt their daily behavior to minimize their bills. Smart home automation can simplify customer choices while flexibly meeting a variety of goals including cost efficiency and carbon reduction.

In a recent study, Sense set out to discover how automation could affect EV charging patterns. In a simulation, EV drivers could choose to minimize cost or carbon impact while charging their cars over a period of 12 to 24 hours. Using carbon intensity data from Singularity Energy and Sense’s home energy data, the simulation automatically timed charging to periods of low carbon intensity from the grid, which varies continuously and differs across controlling authorities.

The study revealed that automating EV charging to optimize for carbon intensity yields an average of 8-14% carbon reduction potential nationwide, and up to a 43% reduction in California. In fact, this automated approach yielded lower carbon impacts than charging according to time of use rates alone.

By automating EV charging in a smart home app, utilities can take advantage of instantaneous, real-time variations in the grid’s power supply to extract higher carbon savings grid-wide with minimal effort by customers. Using a simple, real-time interface combined with automation makes it possible to charge when energy on the grid is mostly renewable. 

These innovations also mean that instead of customers having to navigate a landscape of individual device and event controls, complicated rates, or websites with monthly or daily total usage information, a broader suite of choices can be introduced, automated and called on as utility goals and grid conditions change. Outcome based choices are simpler for customers and put them in the driver’s seat. They strike a balance between utility control and too much complexity for customers to manage. 

When whole-house, smart home energy monitoring is coupled with automation, utilities can optimize costs, reduce carbon and solve grid constraints. These capabilities can even be directly integrated into meter investments. For instance, Landis+Gyr’s Revelo metering platform integrates Sense technology for real-time, whole home energy monitoring. In addition to the Sense app, Revelo is designed to run other third-party apps, making it a platform for multiple ways to interact with customers, flexibly meeting utilities’ goals.  

Today’s residential customer is facing significant change and complexity as they think about and manage their home’s energy resources. They expect their utility to understand their unique needs and apply that understanding to communicate with and support them.  As a result, utilities can no longer afford to be blind to what is happening behind the meter. Utilities need a real-time, holistic view of the home to both reliably serve those customers and to be viewed as a trusted partner in guiding them to the best choices for a low-cost, sustainable future. With personal, real-time insights, utilities and their customers can successfully transition to a flexible, more distributed grid