December 2008

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Grid interoperability
Demand response is an important tool in your energy management toolkit. But the future it anticipates could be of even greater benefit to your bottom line.

Ken Sinclair,

As published
Energy Management Canada

December Issue

Last month the second Grid-Interop conference in Atlanta, Georgia, focused on the interoperability of technology for the electric grid. This year was the first time that the conference was held in partnership with the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

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Under the U.S. 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), NIST has the primary responsibility for coordinating development of a framework to achieve interoperability of Smart Grid devices and systems that includes protocols and model standards for information management.

Interoperability is a key challenge to achieving the vision of the Smart Grid. The NIST was hoping to come away from the conference with an initial per-domain roadmap of what interoperability issues matter, and specific action items to address the interoperability standards' gaps and weakness or overlaps.

Through these and other efforts, experts are developing the architecture for an intelligent and interactive electric system. As this architecture is better developed, building owners will have new opportunities to reduce their electricity bills.

Some companies are already participating in demand response programs, which provide cash incentives for reducing electricity consumption during peak use hours. Jim Butler, CTO at Cimetrics, believes this is “Smart Grid version 0.5: only a taste of what is to come later. Looking ahead, I believe that many electricity customers will be exposed to real-time prices for at least some part of their consumption.”

Butler believes that future versions of the Smart Grid will be different in many ways, but one thing will not change: “Electricity customers will benefit from the Smart Grid if they can automatically adjust their electric loads in response to signals from the grid.”

But if automatic adjustments are made to a poorly functioning building, energy savings may not be fully realized and occupant comfort can be compromised.

For building owners, Butler sets out three pre-requisites for preparing for the Smart Grid today:

Building owners could also develop and implement a demand response control strategy for their facilities. Demand response strategies can also be implemented with an eye to enterprise-wide energy management. Commissioning is essential to verify that any changes made to control systems are likely to work as intended. Ongoing performance monitoring is also prudent.

Butler concludes that building commissioning will become of even greater benefit as the smart grid evolves.

Understanding when you will require the most power can help you plan an effective demand response strategy. Technologies are now on the market that can help you do so. For instance, the VirtuaWatt, when directly connected to an energy provider and the Independent System Operator (ISO), allows its customers to login to view a projection of their load and specify what hours they will be able to decrease power below their projected load, and at what price. This feature provides customers the opportunity to participate in markets where incentives have been established for curtailing load on a real time basis.

Toby Considine, systems specialist, facility services at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, believes demand response is only the tip of the iceberg. Perfecting that is simply the first step in creating more interoperability on the ground.

“Everyone talks about demand response. Everyone talks about peak shaving. These are very important to short term goals,” he notes. “These will be the ways to make money in 2009. They are, however, only the beginning. Demand response is real-time pricing without the infrastructure. Demand response rewards using less energy when there is a shortage, but it does not reward using more energy when it is readily available, or even in surplus. For this reason, Demand response can never be more than a good start.”

Considine believes that, in a mature integrated electricity operation environment, there won’t simply be communication between the grid and customers, but in-building energy trading.

“This will open the door for energy recycling,” he suggests. “I think data centres will lead the way. No building with a data centre will need any energy for the re-heat loop. But what if one tenant is running the data centre, and one tenant is managing the office space? Soon there will be in-building energy markets, to supplement the energy supplied by Big Energy.”

Businesses that understand their energy use will be able to operate most effectively in such an environment.

“In-building energy trading will cause owners to re-examine in-building market distribution and in-building market inefficiencies,” Considine explains. “Why convert generated energy to AC, if the final market is DC? With the market numbers clearly in front of the owners and tenants, some buildings will begin to acquire alternate distribution channels, including in-building DC distribution.

“Photovoltaics gain improved cap rates instantly when removed from the burden of converting to AC and back again,” he continues. “This will ease the development of new energy systems. PV paint and PV window glaze will make better economic sense when they are coupled with nearby local DC distribution circuits. Pervasive metering will align the owner and tenant interests. Exotic but low performing technologies such as Bacterial Generation will make sense when coupled with low demanding local circuits. The game has just begun, and we don't even know the players, but we do know that complexity and diversity will rise.”

Grid interoperability will be a fascinating new frontier. The companies that best understand their operations now will be best armed to take advantage when the truly exciting opportunities come to fruition.


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