As an intern at NEEP—and first-time employee of the energy and efficiency industry—I have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to understanding the current energy landscape. That includes not only how the grid currently functions, but how the latest technology and policy developments are transforming that functionality. My eyes are always peeled for learning opportunities, be they NEEP’s own Summit, workshops, webinars, or those events put on by our colleagues here in the Northeast region.
The Environmental Business Council always has a packed schedule of programming. Its recent program, “Efficiency as a Grid Resource,” stuck out as a particularly relevant opportunity to represent NEEP. I joined them bright and early the morning before Halloween, blinded by the sun streaming into the upper floor office overlooking Boston’s Seaport district. (Was it just me, or did the coffee and refreshments seem backlit by a certain angelic glow…?)
The topics of the day included distributed energy resources, innovation in technology and delivery, and demand-side utility programs for the commercial/industrial and residential sectors.
Distributed Energy Resources
Eric Winkler of Winkler Energy Consulting spoke about the growth and possibilities associated with distributed energy resources, which include industrial generation, rooftop solar, wind, battery storage, and all the recent technologies that come together to turn a home or business property into a multi-stakeholder energy business.
When we bring energy efficiency into the equation, this new paradigm does create some challenges. For example, valuation of grid resources is complicated in part because utility efficiency programs last 5-10 years while generation and transmission investments are 40 year investments. According to ISO-New England, energy efficiency—along with along with solar and natural gas—depresses prices as well as peak demand growth. It also flattens out annual energy consumption. However, with those challenges come retail and wholesale opportunities, as well. According to Eric, various tools present opportunities to optimize the grid; these include grid modification, time of use (TOU) rates coupled with interval meters, competitive auctions with sponsored policy resources (CASPR), and fuel security. He noted that the ISO currently has a proposal for a seven-day-forward market to address the price-raising posturing of limited fuel generators.
Innovation in Technology and Delivery
Ariel Horowitz of Massachusetts Clean Energy Center spoke on energy efficiency and its role in MassCEC’s numerous funding opportunities for innovation and technology. According to Ariel, in the future, we can expect more developments in gas and electric coordination on the demand side and temporal granularity for energy conservation measures. We can also look forward to creating interoperability measures that enable distributed energy resources to work together more smoothly, which will require both creative technology development and wide adoption of standards. Ariel noted that the region’s avoided energy supply cost study and understanding of the non-energy aspects of technologies are important in getting innovative technologies adopted.
Demand-Side Utility Programs
Roshan Bhakta of Eversource spoke on Eversource’s 2018 demonstration projects for demand-side commercial and industrial applications. Integrated energy efficiency and demand reduction remain the top priority, and these new projects seek to make an impact at all three levels of the system: ISO, distribution, and customer. The 2018 demos include demand response for current participants in the ISO-NE Forward Capacity Market, behind-the-meter battery storage on a university campus, thermal ice storage for peak load reduction, and thermal phase change technology for C&I customers that utilize cold storage. In summing up, he noted that “peak is the new kWh,” and that the core business activities and the energy efficiency programs within Eversource are increasingly interacting in the effort to deliver efficiency as a grid resource.
One particularly compelling component of the program—better, even, than bottomless grapefruit seltzer—was seeing a real-life example of NEEP’s contributions to the discussion of energy efficiency pathways. Tom Palma of Unitil spoke on some of the emerging strategies for bringing demand-side resources into the residential utility program mix. These include Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS), battery buy-down pilots, and heat pump promotions, all of which contribute to strategic electrification. Tom put the spotlight on NEEP’s 2016 report, “The Smart Energy Home,” as well as our cold climate heat pump resources and our 2017 summary report on strategic electrification in the Northeast, for being great resources on the subject. As the primary resource for energy stakeholders, and as an organization on the cutting edge of demand-side resources, we have a lot to be proud of.
After sharing their knowledge, the morning’s speakers came together in a panel to answer attendee questions, moderated by Matthew Christie of TRC. While energy industry events always draw some great minds, these two questions in particular drew my attention as particularly relevant, overarching concerns.
- Are we looking at the correct peak right now in Massachusetts? The peak right now is based on a regulatory definition that is no longer very accurate. It tends to assume that peak demand is anywhere from one to three hours earlier than it has now become. However, it may not actually matter—we’re now in the capacity market, where there’s a greater penalty for utilities in a capacity scarcity condition. The ISO is more up-to-date, using methods based on shifting reliability hours.
- Is computer security and hacking a real threat, or a false narrative? It may be a real concern. Presently, banks face huge penalties for poor security programming, but those same regulations don’t necessarily exist for energy systems manufacturers, nor are homeowners subject to North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC) regulations. There is some concern about opening up home wireless internet networks to would-be hackers, especially with the introduction of new entry points to an insecure network. This then brings up the possibility of opening the grid and utilities to threats of large-scale compromise. The question of security responsibility is not one we want left unanswered.
Though distributed energy resources are not new to energy distribution, our capacity for technological innovation certainly is. Between Eversource’s recent projects and NEEP’s forwarding of HEMS technology and strategic electrification, we are clearly on track in this region to create some inspired solutions in the world of distributed generation. Matthew Christie emphasized that our greatest concerns are reflected in the need to continue asking ourselves how to financially value efficiency, how to fit into our slow-moving regulatory structure, and most of all, how to foster innovation.
When I first applied to work at NEEP, my starry-eyed vision of energy efficiency mostly involved LEED certifications, residential window weatherproofing, and souped-up thermostats; the grid was far beyond my small-scale thinking. Perhaps the most revolutionary idea, for me, is the new role of residential and C&I customers as the new and improved energy stakeholder. As ever, we all seek to support a secure, resilient and reliable grid. We can only improve by emphasizing efficiency as a grid resource in its own right.