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Looking Toward the Future at the National Town Meeting on Demand Response and Smart Grid

Published September 01, 2016

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As important as demand response, or DR, is to the future of our industry, there are only a few conferences dedicated to the subject. Of those, The National Town Meeting on Demand Response and Smart Grid in Washington, D.C. is one of the best.

DR is an ever-changing field, constantly evolving to fit the needs of consumers and utility providers. It’s one of the things we think about the most at CLEAResult. And as one of only a handful of companies with dependable expertise in DR, it’s essential for us to stay on the cutting edge of the DR discussion.

The overarching theme at this year’s National Town Meeting was “the Forward-Looking Market,” and utilities trending toward close, localized contact with their customers was a prevailing topic. There are several reasons for this:

For starters, the industry as a whole is getting very specific, location-wise, through geotargeting. At the same time, due to the proliferation of affordable renewable resources, the need for demand-side management is shifting away from managing shortfalls in terms of generation, and toward managing transmission constraints. In order for a targeted approach to be successful, it’s becoming apparent that customers need dedicated devices to ensure the accuracy and precision associated with geotargeting. In the meantime, instead of blanketing large swaths of territory with one form of customer outreach, utilities are moving forward concentrating on specific, close-contact marketing approaches.

Also, the industry at large is changing its generation mix, and this shift is having far-reaching effects. Utilities are moving away from large, centralized coal plants toward a smaller, more widely-distributed network of small gas plants and locally-generated solar power, along with other renewables. As this happens, customer-outreach is becoming much more localized. The overall trend speaks to a completely personalized, concierge-like eventuality.

Another big talking point at The National Town Meeting was storage. Historically, the high cost of energy storage ultimately served as an impediment to renewables and as a burden on customers. Now, though, storage in our industry is in the midst of a revolution not unlike the one we experienced with solar power. Storage costs are plummeting. The implications of this remain to be seen, but it’s clear that DR and storage have a bright future ahead of them, thanks to reduced costs.

But CLEAResult wasn’t at The National Town Meeting just to observe. During his session, “Consumer Engagement Track: Consumer-driven Technology Adoption,” our own Thor Hinckley detailed the rise of the connected home. He described customers increasingly interested and engaged in the selection and use of devices like smart thermostats and electric vehicles (EVs). And he drew on his own experience, discussing examples of utilities finding ways to better inform, delight and serve customers. These examples ran the gamut from bring-your-own-thermostat programs to solar powered EV charging stations.The National Town Meeting, Hinckley said, “was a great opportunity to connect with utilities and technology providers working to chart the path forward into the distributed energy markets of the future.”

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Photos courtesy of Smart Electric Power Alliance

Demand Response 101

There are 8,760 hours in a year. Of these, a mere 85 hours account for up to 10 percent of total peak demand in a given area.

That’s a big deal.

Demand response, or DR, is a methodology by which utility companies can incentivize their customers to use less electricity during those spikes in usage that put a strain on the grid. So, rather than building additional facilities to generate enough power to compensate for those 80 to 90 annual hours, power providers use DR as a smart alternative.

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