Load management and demand response programmes can help utilities use their resources effectively as well as help their customers save money. US utilities are now using internet-based tools to enhance these programmes and improve customer service.
Reliability problems and price volatility experienced in California, New Zealand and Brazil over the past two years have shown how challenging it can be to operate in deregulated markets. While the causes of each ‘crisis’ are different and complex, the results are similar: blackouts and brownouts – managed or otherwise – have serious economic consequences for both utilities and consumers.
Pepco’s customers can access live meter data through the Omni-Link platform
Many lessons have been taken from the California crisis, not least the need for customers and utilities to work together and respond to price signals. Reliability continues to be an issue, especially in the US, and utilities are seeking ways to improve energy management and load curtailment techniques to ensure efficient use of resources.
Utilities in the US regularly use load curtailment programmes to reduce load during peak times when margins become tight. Consumers – usually industrial or large commercial customers – subscribe voluntarily to these programmes and switch off machinery and equipment when requested to do so by the utility. This enables the consumers to make savings, and utilities offer consumers financial incentives such as credits on their bills to take part in such programmes.
In a deregulated market, consumers can make significant financial gains from participating in load response programmes as their specific load reduction has a value in the market. Baltimore Gas and Electric (BGE), for example, recently launched its new Rider 24 Load Response Program, under which customers that respond to high prices will share in the energy market value for load reductions.
The system can offer an up to the minute guide to market energy prices
Rider 24 is part of BGE’s new Energy Information Management (EIM) programme, which provides industrial, commercial and residential consumers with data on energy prices and load, enhancing their ability to take part in load reduction programmes.
BGE’s EIM programme is supported by Omni-Link, an internet-based software tool developed by Powerweb Technologies, a software development company based in Media, Pennsylvania. Several other utilities, including Potomac Electric Power Company, Pepco Energy Services and the Long Island Power Authority, are using Omni-Link.
Omni-Link is licensed to utilities by Powerweb and enables them to manage their load curtailment programmes through a single internet portal. It automates the notification process, sending out messages to consumers when prices reach a pre-defined level and can be used in the industrial, commercial and residential sectors.
The portal also serves the needs of the consumer and makes it easier for them to participate in load reduction programmes as well as understand the financial impact of their actions. Customers subscribing to programmes are given a username and password for the portal, where they can view in detail information on market prices, their own load, and what savings they are able to make through curtailment.
Omni-Link consists of a suite of applications, tailored to meet the needs of the utility, which reside on a Powerweb server. The software brings in data from the demand and supply sides of the market, processes it, and then exports messages to consumers so that they can react accordingly.
“There are two data fields that we need to be successful. One is coming from the meter and the second one is coming from the power market,” notes Andrew Bakey, vice president of sales with Powerweb. “We bring in the supply price and the demand information and use that to run the applications. Our average client is going on and seeing where their real time load is, and gets notified of opportunities in the market to turn off equipment at their site. And when they turn that equipment off, they can see how well they’re doing [financially] every single hour. So it brings in the financial energy market and applies it to the ‘negawatt’; they capture that value in the market.”
Powerweb provides notification of energy prices to consumers by way of pagers, mobile phones, PDAs and faxes
Messages to consumers are sent out as text to devices such as pagers, mobile telephones, PDAs or faxes. While most consumers will be looking to reduce their load when market prices reach a certain level, others – especially industrial customers – may have generating units on their site which they will switch on and use to meet their own needs. They can sell any excess generating capacity back into the market.
In addition to sending out messages, Omni-Link can also send out signals across wireless networks to devices in the field, such as lighting devices, so that load can be reduced. Powerweb has, for example, worked recently with Connecticut Light & Power (CL&P) to deploy a wireless thermostat in residential and small commercial buildings. The thermostats receive signals from the Omni-Link platform to turn up or down, allowing CL&P to control load while bringing savings for its customers. “So if it’s a hot day, our software will push out signals across wireless networks to thermostats in houses or offices and push the temperature up to reduce load,” says Bakey.
Omni-Link’s basic function is to allow electric utilities to notify consumers when demand and electricity prices are rising. However, utilities can also use Omni-Link to implement a number of other tools that enhance their demand response programmes by allowing them and their customers to ‘trade’ load value.
These tools include a ‘day ahead market’, where customers place a bid for the price that they would like to receive in the day ahead market for their load. The platform then sends this bid to the ISO for clearing and then sends the clearing price back to that customer.
There is also a ‘fixed price offer’ tool, where the utility offers customers a fixed price to get off the grid on a given time and date. The customers then respond with how much capacity they can ‘give’. “Here, the utility is pushing a price at the consumer as opposed to the day ahead market, where the customer pushes a price at the utility. So we have it working both ways,” comments Bakey.
The tools also include a ‘real time offer’ which enables economic load reduction and dispatch of generators. End consumers that want to have devices in their plant react to price signals in the market use this tool. They set the price level at which they want their load reduction to start. “So a user puts in a price trigger, and when that price is reached, a notification is sent and equipment is switched off, or generators are switched on, so that they can capture economic value in the market,” explains Bakey.
The platform also includes an emergency offer tool. “When the transmission lines are hurting, or the power companies are screaming for people to assist, then this provides another incentive for them to get off the grid,” explains Bakey. “Here, the utilities will usually pay a premium to consumers … they’ll ask their customers to get off the grid and will offer to pay them x per cent of what the real-time market is.”
The platform also has an analytical function so that consumers can see the financial impact of load drops as well as other data. “We try to keep the analytical capability at the macro, not the micro-level,” says Bakey. “We’re not going to tell you that the motor in your facility is operating inefficiently but simply that your plant is operating inefficiently.”
Customers logging on to the portal are able to view various details on their own load as well as on the market. In the case of Pepco Energy Services’ load curtailment programme, customers have live access to their meter data as well as real time market signals such as the price in the day-ahead market. In addition, a Curtailment Calculator allows the consumer to work out the value of their load in the market and whether they would gain financially from curtailment.
Commenting on Pepco Energy’s load management programme, Lothar Budike, president of Powerweb Technologies, said: “Immediate access to real-time load data facilitates the validation of customers’ participation and savings. In addition, with the Omni-Link’s ability to monitor real-time spot market prices and control distributed resources based on price, an energy supplier such as Pepco Energy Services can have a competitive advantage in the market.”