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Bringing Power to the People

Consumers test new technologies and use real-time pricing information to increase options

Jerry Brous monitors energy costs from his home computer
Jerry Brous, a homeowner in Sequim, Washington, monitors energy costs and usages from his home computer. His home page consists of an invitation to view his energy management at a device level, at a scheduling level, or by history. At the device level, he can select his controlled devices-thermostat, dryer, water heater-and view or override each one's present status. On his schedule pages, he can preset all of his schedules and preferences for each device. The set of pages shown here is where he can choose maximum comfort, maximum economic savings, or many settings in between. On his history pages, he is provided multiple different views of his energy consumption by device or for his entire home.

Increasing demand on the United States energy grid has spurred many energy providers to consider creative solutions to increase generation and encourage conservation. One such effort, the Pacific Northwest GridWise™ Demonstration in the Northwest, implements computer chips in appliances, real-time pricing and automatic power adjustments to better use existing power and place less strain on the grid. Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is managing the GridWise™ Demonstration, which is funded primarily by the Department of Energy.

Through the GridWise™ Demonstration projects, researchers gained insight into energy consumers' behavior by testing new technologies that gave homeowners more information about their energy use and cost and watching to see if this information would modify their behavior.

The demo, which began in January 2006 and lasted for more than a year, had two major components-an energy pricing experiment and a smart appliance demonstration.

Encouraging Consumers with Economics

The Olympic Peninsula Project, the economic portion of the Demonstration, allowed researchers to analyze customer reaction to the cost of delivering energy to their homes through simulated electric bills and pretend money in a mock account that was converted into cash incentives they got to keep.

Approximately 100 homes on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State received energy price information through a broadband Internet connection and automated demand-response thermostats and water heaters that adjusted energy use based on price. Automated controls adjusted appliances and thermostats based on predetermined instructions from homeowners. The volunteers had their own computer website on which they managed their responses. There, they chose from a range of responses from no response to maximum economy response. At any point, homeowners could override their preprogrammed preferences to achieve maximum comfort and convenience.

The demo was one of the first efforts to provide and have loads respond automatically to pricing data on a very short time scale-every 5 minutes compared to other demos' 15 minutes-and the first to include the true costs of transmission and distribution within that price by doing in-the-field demand response with real-time prices.

Grid Friendly Appliances
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory launched the Pacific Northwest GridWise(TM) Testbed Demonstration, a regional initiative to test and speed adoption of new smart grid technologies that can make the power grid more resilient and efficient.

Grid Friendly™ Appliance controller chip

In the portion of the demo focused on the smart appliance technology, a computer chip developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was installed in 150 Sears Kenmore dryers produced by Whirlpool Corporation. The Grid Friendly™ Appliance (GFA) controller chip turns off certain parts of an appliance when it senses instability in the grid-about once a day. The chip shuts down the dryer heating element for a few minutes while the drum continued to tumble. This typically goes unnoticed by the homeowner but drastically reduces power demand within the home.

Multiplied on a large scale, this instant reduction in energy load could serve as a shock absorber for the grid. It would give grid operators time to bring new power generation resources online to stabilize the grid.

At Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, researchers have been reducing the size and cost of the GFA controller. Our goal is to ultimately make the controller available to manufacturers without increasing the cost of a device by more than a couple of dollars.

Addressing the whole range of energy users

The demo is also addressing the whole range of users: from residential to commercial to industrial. A component of the demo is under way at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory's Marine Research Operations office spaces in Sequim. Five municipal water pumps on the Olympic Peninsula were also plugged into the real-time price signal.

What we hope to achieve

Two previous Pacific Northwest National Laboratory studies indicated that creating a smarter grid through information technology could save the United States $80 billion or more over 20 years by offsetting costs of building the generators, transmission lines and substations that will be required to meet estimated load growth. Now that the Pacific Northwest GridWise™ Demonstration is over, we are evaluating customers' reactions to the chip and their responses to the real-time pricing information to determine their acceptance. This will help government and industry determine whether and how to best make the technologies more widely available to consumers.

Benefits of Collaboration
The Demonstration is an experimental project of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in cooperation with the Bonneville Power Administration, Portland General Electric, PacifiCorp, Clallam County PUD #1 and the City of Port Angeles, with products from IBM, Whirlpool, and Invensys and more than 200 homeowners in Washington and Oregon.

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