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Jan. 28, 2008: Grid Study Lets Consumers Set Temperature to Respond to Electric Prices

January 28, 2008
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RICHLAND, Wash. - The U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) announced the results of its Pacific Northwest GridWise™ Demonstration Project, which found that advanced technologies can allow consumers to be active participants in improving power grid efficiency and reliability, while saving money in the process. On average, consumers who participated in the project - setting temperature and responding to electricity prices - saved approximately 10 percent on their electric bills.

The project was funded primarily by DOE, with other support provided by utilities and manufacturers. It involved two separate studies to test demand-response concepts and technologies. The Olympic Peninsula Project found homeowners are willing to adjust their individual energy use based on price signals, provided via information technology tools. The Grid Friendly™ Appliance Project demonstrated that everyday household appliances can automatically reduce energy consumption at critical moments when they are fitted with controllers that sense stress on the grid. Both studies helped reduce pressure on the grid during times of peak demand.

The 112 homeowners who participated in the Olympic Peninsula Project received new electric meters, as well as thermostats, water heaters, and dryers connected via Invensys Controls home gateway devices to IBM software. The software let homeowners customize devices to a desired level of comfort or economy and automatically responded to changing electricity prices in five-minute intervals. To reduce usage in peak periods, when electricity is most expensive, the software automatically lowered thermostats or shut off the heating element of water heaters to the pre-set response limits established by individual homeowners.

“We’re not talking about traditional demand response where consumers have little or no control,” said Rob Pratt, PNNL program manager for the GridWise program. “We’re talking about putting the power into the hands of the consumers, who can customize their energy use to save money or maximize comfort. They can check the financial implications of their decisions at any time, and adjust or override their settings whenever they choose.”

Participants received constantly updated pricing information via the Internet. The ability to connect the homes with energy providers as well as the grid was made possible through IBM technology known as a service oriented architecture (SOA). A “virtual” bank account was established for each household and money saved by adjusting home energy consumption in collaboration with needs of the grid was converted into real money kept by the homeowners. With the help of these tools, consumers easily and automatically changed how and when they used electricity, for their own financial benefit and the benefit of the grid.

In the Grid Friendly Appliance Project, Grid Friendly Appliance (GFA) controllers were embedded in dryers and water heaters in 150 homes in Washington and Oregon. The GFA controller is a small electronic circuit board developed by researchers at PNNL. The GFA controller detects and responds to stress on the electricity grid. When stress is detected, the controller automatically turns off specific functions like the heating element in the dryer. This momentary interruption can reduce electricity consumption enough to stabilize the balance between supply and demand on the grid without the need to turn on inefficient gas-turbine generators.

The study found that Grid Friendly Appliance controllers have the technical capacity to act as a shock absorber for the grid and can prevent or reduce the impact of power outages. Such events occurred once a day on average, each lasting for up to a few minutes. The appliances responded reliably and participants reported little to no inconvenience. The vast majority of homeowners in the study stated they would be willing to purchase an appliance configured with such grid-responsive controls.

Publication date: 01/28/2008

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