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Demand Response During COVID-19 and Summer Heatwaves

Demand Response During COVID-19 and Summer Heatwaves
Demand response – which consistently has its demise predicted – has not only played a significant, positive role in helping our electric utility clients maintain supply and demand in the last year, but has also awakened regulators across the country to its value as a reliable asset. Traditional demand response, defined as helping utilities reduce peak demand primarily during higher than average temperature days (excessive “cooling degree days”), has been used as a cost-effective, customer-focused incentive program service that limits air conditioning load throughout a service territory. Itron’s Distributed Energy Management (DEM) group is a leading provider of demand response services, with 29 active programs controlling over 2 million behind-the-meter devices.

With more people home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been major shifts in consumption by the customer sector, including a lot more residential consumption and of course, a lot less commercial building consumption. Here are a few insights provided by one of Itron’s partners, Pecan Street, in Austin, Texas.
  1. Total residential demand is up
  2. COVID-19 is changing the “Duck Curve” – reducing excess customer sell back of solar to the grid, because they are consuming more at home
  3. Electric vehicle (EV) charging is down, both at home and in public due to less commuting as well as a slowdown in EV car sales

While the aggregate load may be down, the shift from commercial to residential has grid impacts. This is the area of our focus and aligns with the shifting nature of where DEM is going – to be able to measure, monitor and orchestrate an increasing amount of Distributed Energy Resources (DER) behind the meter for distribution grid optimization. A case in point is with residential load impacts. Neighborhoods operate with older, less capable infrastructure – older transformers, smaller voltage lines, less automated substations and vis-à-vis commercial buildings that operate on newer, larger, more automated distribution infrastructure. Increasing load in residential neighborhoods can cause locational problems that can lead to service disruption and negative customer impact. They offer an opportunity for greater consumption analytics, more customer behind the meter DERs and more customer programs.

In addition to COVID-19 impacts, the changing nature of residential customer appliances and energy generation is also impacting the distribution grid, not completely, but often in individual neighborhoods, increasing challenges and risks for our utility clients. Electric vehicle service equipment (EVSE) will start proliferating in customer homes, creating the largest load in the home and in some cases, doubling the load for a single-family customer. That will have direct impact on secondary transformers.

Recently, our senior product manager and grid optimization expert, George Simons, wrote an article for T&D World on this very topic. If you haven’t read it, please do. It’s a great technical read for our utility customers and a nice way to introduce how Itron is planning to solve these challenges, while offering more value to their customers.

Itron’s product offering for demand response includes leveraging our analytics expertise to create greater insights, which can lead to better grid management. We have significant analytics capabilities that can work with our OpenWay Riva IoT solution (featuring distributed intelligence), networks software such as SensorIQ and Operations Optimizer, MetrixIDR and DER analytics. These analytics can leverage multiple data sets to provide insights to end use customers, but also in aggregate, to measure impacts to transformers and substations, enabling utilities to better manage locational supply and demand, address impacts to older, less equipped infrastructure and improve reliability and services to utility customers.