The Endless Possibilities of Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings


As glaciers and ice sheets melt, sea levels rise, and several species like the white rhinoceros are decimated down to their last, I have been reading about Greta Thunberg and her fight to save our future planet. Her passion at times can be both awe-inspiring and guilt-inducing, but her impact is undoubtedly sobering. This 16-year-old started her one-person climate action strike in August 2018, and with an overt dedication to her cause, she managed to inspire millions to march in the streets of cities across the world on September 20, 2019.

Greta’s influence on the world’s youth got me thinking about the key climate change influencers in my own sphere of work - electric utilities. Not only are they well positioned to support decarbonization of electric generation and widespread strategic electrification, but they are laying the foundation for highly impactful concepts like grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEBs) to be realized.

The GEBs concept is relatively new to most utilities, but the technologies that support GEBs have been around for a while. In effect, a GEB is a building with a holistic and well optimized blend of energy efficiency, energy storage, renewable energy, and load flexibility technologies enabled through smart controls.

At NEEP, we are currently working on a project to capture the status of GEBs in the Northeast region. Through questionnaires, interviews, and workshops, we are gathering information on what is driving the need for GEBs, what GEBs initiatives are currently being executed, which key players are involved in these initiatives, and what GEBs technologies are currently being researched and deployed. By analyzing the results of our GEBs research, we hope to identify the regional market barriers and technical challenges that impede GEBs technologies from being deployed on a larger scale, to better understand the role that buildings can play in energy system operation and planning, and to determine how we can work together as a region to accelerate the adoption of GEBs technologies.

Here is a snapshot of our current findings so far….

Our research indicates that the concept of GEBs is still very new to many utilities. While they are aware that there is a strong need for buildings to optimize energy use of both grid services and building occupants in an integrated way, they still silo their distributed energy generation and energy efficiency programs (critical to GEBs success). Many program administrators have indicated that fixing this problem would require regulators, legislators, utilities, service providers, and customers to come together, get a clear understanding of their individual roles, and determine pathways towards making the GEBs concept a reality. What is really needed is a champion on board like Greta, who can bring all of these entities to an altruistic mindset and get the ball rolling.

Our research shows that there is a huge need to understand the types of technologies that are needed to solve specific problems. For example, program implementers state that there are many new technologies out there, but there is a need for off-the-shelf technologies to be able to communicate with both utilities and customers, and to leverage real-time information. On the other hand, researchers and developers indicate that if more opportunities were created for them to fully understand technology needs of utilities, then the technologies they develop can be better tailored to these needs.

Our research also shows that with the availability and adoption of new advanced data-driven technologies, data vulnerability becomes an issue. Hence, as utilities continue to modernize the grid to support these innovations, infrastructure must be put in place to withstand cybersecurity threats both in front and behind the meter.

A final report of our research is due to be published later this year. It will give an in-depth look at how GEBs initiatives are currently helping Northeast states realize their electrification and decarbonization goals, and how we can work together as a region to help bring GEBs technologies to scale.

The possibilities are endless, but getting there may require a few Greta Thunbergs of the GEBs world.

Stay informed

Stay up to date with the latest NEEP and industry news, policies, and trends to your inbox every so often.