Author Archives: Jamie Fine

Nest’s Promising Results for Reducing Peak Electricity Demand

Google's Nest

Back in January when Google announced it would spend $3.2 billion to purchase Nest, EDF knew this was a company to watch. The results of three new reports, released today, confirm that controllable thermostats like the Nest Learning Thermostat are both customer-friendly and useful for energy system planners. Moreover, the reports signal that smart devices, such as those Nest manufactures, have potential for generating marked savings for utility customers.

The reports analyze 2012-2013 energy use data gathered from four major utilities across the U.S. that offer Nest energy services programs: Austin Energy, Reliant Energy, Green Mountain Energy, and Southern California Edison.

The first report evaluates the results of Rush Hour Rewards, a demand response service that changes the temperature of the homes of Nest users during energy “rush hours”, or times when demand on the grid is highest. The second examines Seasonal Savings, a program that runs for three weeks and slowly modifies the temperature according to the customer’s behavior (which this smart thermostat is able to ‘learn’ via its built-in motion sensor and understanding of its owner’s temperature preferences). Both operate during times of heavy usage, namely winter and summer. The third report analyzes home energy data of Nest customers more broadly, comparing energy use before and after the installation of a Nest Thermostat. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Smart Grid, Utility Business Models| Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Preliminary Results Find Demand Response-Green Building Partnership is Off to a Great Start

LEED3

The preliminary results of the Demand Response Partnership Program (DRPP), a unique partnership launched by EDF and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 2011, are now available in the 2013 DRPP Overview. Photo source: Harvard University.

Buildings account for 40% of our nation’s electricity use. In 2012, power plants spewed about 2 gigatons of global warming pollution into our air, which was about one-third of total U.S. emissions. That’s why EDF and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) teamed up to launch the Demand Response Partnership Program (DRPP) aimed at increasing the participation from commercial buildings in host utility demand response (DR) and smart grid programs. Now, 2 years into the program, the preliminary results of this collaboration are available in our 2013 DRPP Overview.

DR is used to reduce energy use by rewarding utility customers who use less electricity during times of “critical,” peak electricity demand. Through DRPP, we leveraged relationships with the building community asking LEED projects to operate in low power mode when the grid is stressed. LEED ‘Pilot Credit 8: Demand Response’ has been developed as an incentive and implementation guideline.

This study evaluated three areas to measure the program’s success in 2013: Recruitment and outreach to potential participants, research and analysis of data from participants, and education about the DRP Program. A few key highlights are outlined in the Overview: Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid| Tagged , | 1 Response, comments now closed

How's Your Electric Bill Treating You? Time To Give It Some Thought

This commentary originally appeared on EDF's California Dream 2.0 Blog

When was the last time you really gave a lot of thought to your electric bill?

If your answer is “not very often”, then you’re not alone. In fact, the typical household thinks about their electric bill only six minutes a year.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) now has the opportunity give people another way to control household energy bills by creating a system where changing the time you use electricity can save money. This won’t mean you’ll need to invest more time thinking about energy use, but you’d be well-served to think about the timing of it.

Last week, the CPUC held a public workshop inviting stakeholders — PG&E, SCE and, SDG&E, along with consumer, industry, and environmental groups — to present and discuss their proposals for revising the system of charges for residential electricity use. I had the pleasure of presenting EDF’s proposal for a time-of-use (TOU) pricing system: For customers looking for another option for saving money on their monthly bill, EDF sees TOU as the best pricing policy for both people and the environment; customers uncomfortable with this option would be able to “opt out” and choose another pricing structure.

Currently, the standard “tiered” rate charges customers higher prices for higher electricity usage. The approach is intended to send the message: “The more you use, the more you pay.” Read More »

Posted in California, Demand Response, Smart Grid, Utility Business Models| 1 Response, comments now closed

Cream Cheese And Time-Of-Use Electricity Pricing

This commentary was originally posted on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

“The cream cheese just fell off the roof of the car,” my 7-year old daughter said as I turned into my driveway after a trip to the grocery store. Right now you might be asking yourself, “What does this have to do with time-of-use pricing?” Allow me to explain.

We live in Alameda, CA, where plastic bags are prohibited and stores must charge for a paper bag. Alas, I had forgotten to bring a reusable one. To teach my children a lesson and avoid the public scorn (not so much the $0.05 per bag), I carried our groceries and asked the kids to lend their hands. And yes, I put the cream cheese on the roof of the car to free a hand to unlock it.

Once home, I realized that, in addition to almost losing my cream cheese, I’d been making potentially risky tradeoffs. After all, exiting the supermarket with full hands prevented me from holding my children’s hands while crossing a busy – and dangerous – parking lot.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m not lamenting the ban on plastic shopping bags. I think it makes perfect sense, but it takes time to start making the adjustment and the risk tradeoffs aren’t always obvious.

This scenario– making adjustments that may seem inconvenient and a bit scary, but are well worth the effort– plays out in other areas of life as well. Particularly in rethinking how Americans use and pay for electricity.

Source: Union Atlantic Electricity

Most of us don’t think about how the time of day affects the cost of serving us power. In California, we aim to change that by moving to Time-of-Use (TOU) pricing – which will make electricity more expensive during times of peak, or high, energy demand and cheaper off-peak. In fact, just yesterday, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) recommended moving all residential customers to time-of-use rates by 2018 in an effort to give customers more control over energy costs.

EDF believes that TOU pricing will be best for people and the environment, just as banning plastic shopping bags effectively reduces their environmental impact. This approach can encourage conservation and reduce peak energy use while providing customers with more choices that can ultimately lower their monthly bills. Switching to TOU electricity pricing may feel to some like being thrust into a busy parking lot with an armload of groceries and two children to monitor. When should I use my dishwasher? Do I need to reset my air conditioner? Well, yes and no. You can choose to do nothing, or you can exercise a choice you don’t have with our current pricing structure: shifting energy use to times of lower electricity prices. It’s quite doable.

Read More »

Posted in California, General, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid, Utility Business Models| Tagged , | Comments closed

Nest Labs: Proof Life Exists In The Smart Grid Ecosystem

This commentary was originally posted on EDF's California Dream 2.0 blog.

There are many conceptions of the smart grid; what it is and what it should do for us – the “ratepayers” – who will finance the necessary upgrades to California’s electrical system. I find the concept of a “smart grid ecosystem” — with smart customers, smart utilities and smart markets — to be a helpful guidepost as we seek to evaluate what should be accomplished by the utilities trusted to deploy our smart grid.

Ecosystems achieve resiliency through diversity. We want a variety of clean energy resources on the supply side – hydropower, wind, solar photovoltaic, solar thermal – spread across a variety of locations (but never too far from customers). Similarly, on the demand – or customer – side, Californians, buildings, appliances and electric vehicles create an intricate, synergetic web that can be made more efficient and flexible with customer education and empowerment, customer-focused energy pricing policies, and demand response (which allows customers to voluntarily reduce peak electricity use and receive a payment for doing so in response to a signal from their electric utilities).

There are other ways to contemplate diversity in the energy context: Unlike some other states, most Californians can’t choose their power providers, though they can choose among rate “plans” (which are payment schemes, not plans to help manage energy use and costs). EDF recognizes that a smart energy marketplace will thrive with a greater variety of competitors, products and services, and would like to see “3rd party energy service providers” able to participate (that catch-all term includes organizations that deliver energy services and products to customers at a variety of levels throughout the smart grid ecosystem).

Yesterday’s announcement by Nest Labs (Nest) is more proof that the smart grid ecosystem is alive and well. With utility partnerships in California and Texas, among other places, Nest uses their intelligent, WiFi-connected thermostat to help customers smartly and painlessly trim energy use by learning, and mimicking, their temperature preferences automatically. For example, the Nest’s Seasonal Savings services will alert your thermostat when new rates apply with a change of season and the device will begin slight adjustments to presets to adapt to predictable weather trends. Read More »

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Solar, Wind Prompting Electricity Grid Innovation In California

In a February Wall Street Journal article (“California Girds for Electricity Woes”), reporter Rebecca Smith gives an alarmist and misleading account of California energy regulators’ efforts to secure a cleaner, less expensive, more reliable electricity grid.  Right now, California has plenty of power:  44 percent more generating capacity than it typically uses, including a considerable fossil fuel energy portfolio.  Renewables – large scale, rooftop solar, wind, and, increasingly, energy storage – make up almost 15 percent of the grid, a percentage that will more than double in the next decade.  These clean, innovative energy technologies are working to improve the system by reducing the need for fossil fuels.

The reality is that the grid is changing, driven by California’s quest to secure an environmentally safe and affordable electricity system. Increasing the amount of renewable energy on the grid will mean that more generation is variable; electricity output from solar and wind depends on sunshine or windiness, respectively.    Up to this point, California has met this challenge by backing up clean resources with fossil fuels.  But California’s ratepayers can’t afford to keep doing this, so instead of “girding for woe,” the CAISO and the CPUC met to proactively address our changing future – to move California towards cleaner, less expensive electric grid planning.

This new approach can increase California’s ability to rely on clean energy generation by building greater flexibility into the system – while giving more options to consumers.  Not only can customer-based (“demand-side”) clean energy technologies reduce reliance on polluting power plants, they are quite likely to be more reliable and are potentially more cost-effective.   Demand response, or the ability of customers to choose to save money by responding to a price or electronic signal from the grid operator in times of excess system demand, will be key to integrating large amounts of intermittent solar and wind without back-up fossil or storage.   In fact, during afternoon peak demand, where supply is extremely limited in its ability to serve load, the addition of virtual generation resulting from the participation of DR into the market will actually lower energy prices.

California has already installed a robust digital metering infrastructure – and it’s time to put these meters to work by enabling customers to participate in demand response and other demand-side programs.  Coupled with technologies that now allow for fast, reliable, automated ‘set-it-and-forget-it’ adjustments to electricity use, we can seamlessly integrate variable electricity resources, such as wind and solar, without disrupting energy users.  Customers can choose to become an energy resource instead of fossil fuel plants.  Read More »

Posted in California, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid| Tagged , , , | Comments closed
  • About the author

    Senior Economist
    As Senior Economist, Jamie Fine works to reduce the impacts of energy systems used to power buildings, transport and service people, and produce and move goods.

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