Rapid Feedback: What Makes It Great - for Advanced Efficiency?

I was driving to work early on a beautiful summery Monday morning, mentally already in the office getting ready for a busy day. As I approached one familiar intersection, there was a different speed limit sign – not the typical “Speed Limit 20” post planted in the ground, but one that said “Speed Limit 20” and, below it, an announcement of my speed – 27 – in flashing lights. It went even further, flashing a message saying “Lower Your Speed”, which I promptly did. As if that wasn’t enough, it also flashed back “Thank You!” A bicyclist and I exchanged watchful, friendly glances as he approached from another direction. While I hadn’t been driving recklessly, I had been more or less on autopilot during that habitual commute. That is, until I saw the flashing lights. My attention and my behavior responded – I was able to adjust at the right place and the right time, thanks to that rapid feedback. The unexpected “Thank You” also left a lingering positive impression.

Ironically – or maybe poetically – I was heading to work to facilitate a roundtable on the topic of rapid feedback technology as it applies in the energy industry. That commute got me thinking about what made that traffic feedback so great. It worked so much more effectively than a simple speed limit sign, but why? The sign was interactive in several ways: telling you the protocol, giving you a status update, providing suggestions on how to change course, and then acknowledging the change at the very end of the experience. And, it was positioned strategically in another way: located just before a complicated intersection near a school where the value of managing traffic congestion and safety is especially high. 

Empowerment Through Choice

Not long before that experience, I got a Lyft ride to the airport. I could choose between a shared car ride at a lower price and slightly longer expected travel time or the single passenger version. I was pleased to know I had a choice. When I asked the driver how he liked the work, he extolled the benefits of rider and driver choice, explaining that a big benefit to him was its flexibility. As a musician with irregular hours, he could drive when he had availability. Moreover, he could pick and choose to work during the peak traffic hours when he got paid more. And in real time, he could decide between accepting longer hauls or short trips. This is a system that helps manage and optimize supply and demand at a fleet level and it can benefit and deliver flexibility to the individual suppliers and consumers in the process – again, thanks to rapid feedback.

Rapid feedback is something we are all experiencing these days. In some cases, it can be a sub-par experience like, for example, a survey about customer satisfaction after every little transaction or in the unsolicited offers that crop up in your web browser. These experienced tend to make you feel watched. On the flip side, rapid feedback can empower you, like when you are informed of how long the wait time is expected to be if you get put on hold while making an old-fashioned phone call to a call center.

Evolving Technology

But back to the energy industry, let’s keep in mind the broader picture: rapid feedback enabled by new technology – M&V2.0 software, smart devices, the Internet of Things, and blockchain, to name a few – has the capability to facilitate the dauntingly complicated decision-making and types of transactions that are beginning to confront our energy industry.

Energy efficiency is just one of the resources available to help meet our energy needs. Increasingly it is being integrated with other resources, demand response, storage, and photovoltaics. Together they influence how our region meets energy capacity needs, as well as the emissions associated with our energy consumption. Rapid feedback is part of the key to making the grid function efficiently in the face of resources on both sides of the meter and in optimizing the region’s use of this integrated bundle of resources, which we refer to as “advanced efficiency”.

What makes rapid feedback great? It’s sending the right signals to the right audiences/actors at the right time, and in an effective and interactive way. It’s in applications around us now, like Lyft, and emerging, like advanced efficiency. It’s useful in all stages of a market, from initial R&D and implementation to evaluation. For example, what is the impact of services like Lyft on total fuel consumption? We need to be asking questions like this to better understand the many benefits of rapid feedback services.

Getting Involved

Many of NEEP’s projects and upcoming events are helping to illustrate or shed light on what makes rapid feedback great. Rapid feedback embedded into program design can facilitate continuous improvements in operations and bottom lines for utilities’ commercial and industrial customers. Here are a few examples of some of the things NEEP is working on that could be tied to the rapid response space:

  • NEEP workshops and research products are available to provide more information about the uptake of these Strategic Energy Management and Continuous Energy Improvement initiatives in the region.
  • On the residential side, with its HEMS working group, NEEP is tracking the growing array of devices like home automation and security systems. Some of these can literally talk to residents and help them and the grid with efficiency and demand response opportunities while also informing the manufacturer or utility about usage patterns that help establish the regional profile.
  • M&V2.0 software is another product that is available to our industry. Through some pilot projects that are taking place now with Connecticut utilities, NEEP is helping the region to better understand the potential of rapid feedback to reduce the time and expense associated with program evaluation.

The beauty of rapid feedback goes beyond individual efficiency programs, devices, or software. From the systems perspective, advanced efficiency requires consideration of what’s behind the meter (energy efficiency, demand response, PV and some storage) and the supply sources in front of the meter. Rapid feedback could scale up the back and forth of information from an intimate dinner conversation to a whole cocktail party. Looking ahead, what makes rapid feedback even greater is its potential to help solve complicated problems in the region where time, location, and customer resources matter.

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