Utilities at event share insight into making DR work
US ‘Town Meeting’ panelists call trust, automation pivotal

Smart Grid Today
July 12, 2020

Building trust with DR customers is a prerequisite to greater growth in the sector, an industry panel agreed this week at the National Town Meeting on Demand Response & Smart Grid. The Assn for Demand Response & Smart Grid (ADS) hosted the conference in Washington, DC from July 9-11.

“You don’t build trust with a transactional relationship,” Gary Fromer, Constellation Energy’s senior VP for energy management programs, said. Outdated contracts where, for example, a utility hires a DR provider for three years and calls a few times a year for performance, treat DR like a quick fix rather than the resource integrated with power delivery it should be, he added.

“The way we procure power” needs to be “integrated with the way we use power,” Fromer advised.
For firms that both operate generation and procure power, those business units have to be in closer communication than what is now the norm, Gregg Dixon, senior VP of marketing and sales at EnerNOC, added. This restructuring isn’t necessarily easy but it will help firms save money through DR, he added.

“At a time when budgets are tight, you have to take advantage of it,” Dixon noted.

Trust between utilities and DR providers is one piece of an effective DR offering. Another is trust between utilities and customers interested in taking part in DR programs.

San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) hired community groups as “trusted messengers” to spread the word about the utility’s DR program, California PUC Commissioner Catherine Sandoval said at the conference.

The IOU hired consulting firm Customer to “help view things through the customers’ eyes,” Ted Reguly, the utility’s director of customer programs and assistance, told us recently (SGT, Apr-26).

Reaching out to DR customers in their native languages or in familiar cultural settings helped DR succeed in California, Sandoval added. Since California is home to one of the largest Vietnamese populations in the country, the California PUC put out a PSA on energy use at a local Vietnamese festival that Sandoval said was well received.
Utilities can shape their messaging to different demographics, Sandoval suggested. “In our demand response order, we asked the utilities… to take into account the demographics of the people that they’re serving,” including age, income, native language and “other factors that are going to affect their receptiveness to messages” on DR, she said.

Sandoval is the first Latina to serve as a California PUC commissioner.

Slack demand growth hurts

The DR market as a whole is dealing with a lack of demand growth and has been flat since the recession hit, Fromer noted.

The industry still has some areas of potential growth -- such as Texas or Southern California where the nuclear plant that supplied 20% of the state’s power retired -- that very much need more DR, he added.
The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) outage made the DR programs in Southern California much more active, something like 10 calls just in this summer so far, Fromer said. That pushed some customers out of the program.

Those that left might have been happy cashing a check and being called on once a year but regular dispatches are making DR much less attractive to them, he added.

But automation helps

Customers that stay in active DR programs often have sophisticated installations that let them automate DR and do so without major disruptions to their business, Fromer said.

Some customers can take part in DR so that it is automated and relatively painless but that is just not possible in all cases, noted EnerNOC Senior VP of Marketing and Sales Gregg Dixon.

The Pentagon has to keep national security and cannot just flip off the switch without getting ready for it, he added. Steel mills cannot just shut down their line with a signal from the grid because that might kill someone, he added.

© 2013 Modern Markets Intelligence, Inc. IMPORTANT: This article was reproduced from the July 12, 2020 issue of Smart Grid Today with the limited permission of the owner. To view the full story on Smart Grid Today’s website, please visit http://www.smartgridtoday.com/articles/9831-utilities-at-event-share-insight-into-making-dr-work.

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