With the grid in North America firmly under the spotlight, Electric City is working on two projects that aim to manage peak loads best by using smart systems to remotely control demand.

Glen Akselrod, Electric City, Illinois, USA

ince the California energy crisis and the massive blackout that struck North America in August 2003, regulators and policy makers along with other stakeholders have realized that North America’s electric grid has not kept up with the growth in electricity demand.

As a result of this growing demand-supply imbalance, utilities, large consumers, regulators and policy makers concluded that regions must immediately consider ways in which the power grid can be upgraded and are now questioning how alternative energy can be utilized to help solve problems on the grid. However, while transmission constraints have become a major issue, as a result of urban sprawl it has proven to be very difficult to expand existing transmission systems due to ‘not in my back yard’ concerns.

First and foremost, the basics have to be addressed. Some of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to solve strain on the electric grid include promoting efficiency and demand reduction technologies.

Demand response

In response to these observations and subsequent shift in resource planning and policy making, many regions across North America are launching government-sponsored, utility-owned and market-based demand response programmes. Examples include proactive and innovative approaches at the state level. For instance, Pennsylvania has recently passed legislation that qualifies demand response as a renewable resource within a renewable standards portfolio and Illinois is in the process of passing similar legislation. Additionally, California has led the way with a large number of demand response programmes; New Mexico has announced plans to adopt an energy efficiency bill, while the government of Ontario, Canada has initiated significant regulatory and policy changes that will treat the economics of demand reduction equal to that of new power supply generation.

At the same time, the shift by utilities and regulators to include demand response in overall power grid design has coincided with advancement of demand response technologies and companies that develop and manufacture them. One such company is Illinois based Electric City Corp.


Figure 1. The equipment can be located in the back room area of any utility and comes complete with security controls
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Electric City provides EnergySaver and GlobalCommander energy conservation technologies, as well as its independent development of scalable demand response systems with the trade name Virtual ‘Negawatt’ Power Plan (VNPP).

The EnergySaver is a lighting control, power reduction system that provides variable baseload demand side energy management by increasing or decreasing the active power supplied to a ballasted lighting system without abrupt voltage changes. Consequently, the product allows end users to curtail power to their lighting systems by as much as 30 per cent. Current results demonstrate that occupants of curtailed locations do not perceive any lighting degradation and experience no adverse impact on their business operation. Installed in just a few hours, it can be located in the backroom area of a facility and can provide internet connectivity and real time reporting of energy savings. The system is appropriate for both interior and exterior lighting systems, including all ballasted lighting fixtures. To date, the EnergySaver has been used in a variety of applications to provide steady-state energy savings and real time peak demand load control.

Combining programmes

Accoridng to Electric City, the GlobalCommander is the only advanced controller capable of providing large scale demand side management savings without turning off the lights. Electric City has packaged the EnergySaver technology with area wide communication to provide a curtailment control system that strives to efficiently reduce base lighting loads. When used in conjunction, the GlobalCommander provides the EnergySaver with multiple communication capabilities and accurate microprocessor based measurement and verification on a real time basis. The package allows Electric City to respond to market information by changing control set points, activating start/stop schedules, and altering other operating parameters to take full advantage of market rates and peak load conditions.

With the capability to accept additional load control points and devices the GlobalCommander reduces the installed cost of additional demand response systems that may be selected or desired in the future.


Figure 2. A screenshot of GlobalCommander shows the connected loads in California
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Major US retailers such as Home Depot, Gillette, Heinz, Toyota, A&P and Linens ’N Things as well as many state and municipal governmental agencies have saved significant sums from their lighting bills utilizing the EnergySaver-GlobalCommander technology. The growing customer successes have been instrumental in advancing the company from a manufacturer of an energy efficiency product to a developer of scalable demand response systems.

The combination of the two also produces ‘Negawatts’ in lieu of megawatts at a cost that is significantly lower than the wholesale cost of power. The system provides a large level of power curtailment that is completely dispatchable, remotely controllable and verifiable over an internet based system that is completely transparent to end users. The VNPP is a binding together of the Negawatt concept with the EnergySaver-GlobalCommander.

Remote control dispatch

VNPP allows utilities to remotely control commercial, industrial and government lighting systems over a managed and secure IP network. By using the system, a utility is able to reduce electric capacity requirements during periods of peak demand, providing instantaneous control, measurement and verification of load reduction.

Electric City or their utility customers can operate real time dispatch of load curtailment. Dispatch control facilities have geographic control and real time communication in order to measure, verify and shift load from any specific installed EnergySaver-GlobalCommander system, or a select network of EnergySaver-GlobalCommander systems across multiple sites. Dispatch can also be pre-programmed into the system in advance and can automatically respond to price signals and other market based events.

The VNPP system was first demonstrated in August of 2001. At that time ComEd and the Chicago Mayor’s Office requested that city facilities curtail electrical consumption to avert blackouts as demand for electricity reached an all-time record high. Utilizing Electric City’s technology, the Chicago Park District was able to respond instantly with a simple click of a mouse, immediately shutting off non-essential lighting at 34 of its locations citywide. This demonstrated the first real test of the VNPP methodology.

Green energy initiatives

The demand response programmes currently being developed for Commonwealth Edison (50 MW) and PacifiCorp (27 MW) represent some of North America’s largest cost effective demand response programmes known to date. These projects will be a key part of ComEd’s and PacifiCorp’s green energy initiatives and a valuable asset to their overall future all source resource plan. Both of these large scale demand response programmes are structured through long term power purchase agreements. Under these agreements, Electric City will deploy its demand response system, which will allow PacifiCorp and ComEd to remotely control commercial, industrial and government lighting systems over a managed and secure IP network. Using Electric City’s system, the utilities will be able to reduce electric capacity requirements during periods of peak demand, providing instantaneous control, measurement and verification of demand reduction.

The deployment of the VNPP demand response system has been aided by tremendous customer acceptance of the technology and the ease of the programme, which encourages customer participation. Since the cost of the programme is borne by the utility in the form of a long term power purchase agreement, Electric City is able to provide the system to end use customers at no cost. In exchange for receiving free technology, the customer agrees to operate the system at a steady state reduction level of 3 to 5 per cent and thereby receives an infinite return on their zero dollar investment. For these free savings, the customer then gives Electric City and its utility partners the right to further reduce the power to their lighting system by another 20 to 25 per cent on certain days when the power grid reflects peak demand conditions. The customers are open to this additional reduction and agree to give up control of their lighting systems to the utility because they know that even at a 30 per cent reduction level, the loss of lighting will be minimal and will never adversely impact their business operations. Customers will be able to run their sales, service or manufacturing operations without interruption and without noticing any difference in their level of lighting. In addition, the installation process only takes a couple of hours.

The simplicity of the programme has resulted in customers who have signed up and are currently participating in the ComEd project, entering into agreements with Electric City to participate in similar VNPP programmes in other electricity jurisdictions in North America. This allows the company to approach utilities and regulators who are studying or discussing programmes in their respective jurisdictions with pre-aggregated load from current customers who have already expressed an interest in becoming a participant. This has helped utilities get over some of their historical concerns about not getting enough customers to participate in previous programmes.

Utilities and regulators had been slow to recognize the importance of demand response in the electric power markets. That has all changed. The historic power outage of 14 August 2003 has raised critically needed awareness among the same utilities and regulators that were previously wary of this type of load management initiative. Electric City has demonstrated that one of the quickest and most cost-effective ways to solve the strain on the electric grid is to utilize demand reduction technologies.