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Instead of Matching Supply to Demand, Why Don’t We Match Demand to Supply? (Part Two)

Meanwhile in California…

While I’ve been at Tendril working on the technology side of flexible load optimization, some of my Lawrence Berkeley National Lab (Berkeley Lab) and NREL colleagues have pursued integrating flexible demand into California’s energy landscape. They’ve done extensive modeling of what’s expected to happen in California based on the state’s aggressive goals of increasing energy efficiency, integrating more renewable energy, and achieving complete decarbonization of the state’s transportation system.

The decarbonization plan requires really dramatic changes to the fundamental nature of what it means to have an electricity grid in California. As the state decarbonizes its entire transportation sector over the next 20 to 30 years, every single home will have to install 1 to 3 electric vehicle charging stations. There won’t be any more gas stations – just rapid recharge stations for the public, along with charging stations at places like the grocery store and the mall. It’s great for the environment, but here’s the catch: adding those charging stations to your home is equivalent to adding 2 to 5 additional air conditioning units. So, while the generation of electricity is “greener,” the total demand is going to increase substantially, particularly along residential circuits.

To make California’s vision of decarbonization a reality, the state needs to find storage and load flexibility that will help it manage excess supply from renewables and channel it into these grid add-ons that require more electricity. Sourcing this system flexibility at the edge of the grid load necessitates an across-the-board shift that affects each and every residential and business customer a utility has, and it’s a shift that requires a different kind of accommodation from the utility.

To meet these individual demands, utilities need to figure out – in a similar fashion to what my team is doing at Tendril--not only what works on a technical level, but also what works on a human level. What’s the most effective way to talk to customers? How can years of BEE program successes and failures inform new energy efficiency and demand flexibility initiatives? What’s the most productive relationship – the most well-balanced partnership – between utilities and vendors? These are the questions that need answers.

Flexible Demand with a Focus on the Customer

While we at Tendril and my colleagues out in California work to find these answers, there are a few “givens” in the solution, I think.

First, there’s no question that to maximize the potential of demand as a grid resource, that demand has to be flexible. As they’ve found in California, shedding load is not going to be very useful moving forward, because capacity is not going to be the main issue. California, for instance, and most other places heavily invested in renewables will have plenty of generation, but what they won’t have is plenty of storage. Storage from load comes from shifting – moving load from one part of the day to another without changing the outcome for the customer. Shift-able (or shape-able) load is the most valuable form of demand precisely for its flexibility: it can be scheduled to fit the needs of a household, a community of households, a circuit, a balancing area, and eventually, an interconnect.

Second, flexible demand only works if it’s executed with the customer in mind – top of mind. At the AESP conference this year the main takeaway was customers, customers, customers: they need engaging, informative communication from their utilities, and their satisfaction is central to the success of any modern energy provider as the market welcomes more private players and becomes more competitive. Utilities that invest in technology that makes flexible demand possible while prioritizing customer comfort and effective customer communication will lead the field, function smoothly at the edge of the grid, and ensure our clean energy future.






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