Duck Hunting with a New Generation of Demand Response in California

June 21, 2017

By: Hilary Polis

The afternoon of March 11, 2017 was a historic date for energy in the state of California—on this date, 40% of the electricity supplied to the California grid was generated from solar power, a new record high. This comes as the result of total solar capacity in California skyrocketing from less than 1 GW in 2007 to 14 GW in 2016.

While this progress is exciting for the expansion of clean energy, it also presents a growing concern for grid stability. Grid operators have been warning about the future threat of extreme changes in load curves in California for the past few years, and that future is now upon us. In a classic mismatch of supply and demand, the supply of solar power dips when the sun starts to set which coincides with the time most Californians head home from work and engage in electricity-intensive activities. This results in duck-shaped energy load curves, representing a formidable challenge for grid operators to meet the spike in demand after the drop in supply.

Tackling the duck curve requires thought leadership and collaboration from all aspects of the energy industry. The energy efficiency industry has much to offer by developing innovative approaches to balance out new solar on the grid. The recent Spring Symposium of the California Efficiency + Demand Management Council (CEDMAC) focused on the transition to an “advanced” generation of demand response. Traditionally, demand response (DR) has meant shedding load at times of peak demand, but the next generation of demand response will need to be multidimensional to meet a suite of broadly diversifying needs. However, to turn DR into a grid solution, it is vital to understand how participants react to DR signals and interact with new DR-enabled technologies. Utilities are changing their models to identify and deploy programs in support of these needs.

At Opinion Dynamics, we help our clients not only quantify the energy and demand impacts of these emerging programs, but also utilize segmentation and propensity scoring techniques to identify the  customers whose energy usage can be most easily shifted to help support the grid. The next generation of Demand Response initiatives include:

Flexible DR: In critical times, we will need flexible DR resources that grid operators can deploy in less than 5 minutes. We can accomplish this by quantifying savings associated with mass media DR events, and understanding customer awareness and attitudes towards these events.  This information allows program implementers insight on the ability to count on DR as a flexible and fast-acting resource during supply shortages.

Geographically-targeted DR: The uneven distribution of solar panels in California provides more stress on the grid in some areas over others. The next generation of DR will provide more value if it is localized, with the ability to target stressed areas. Our research supports efforts in geographically capacity constrained environments. We develop research designs and assess incremental reductions in demand to support a more balanced grid.

Multi-purpose DR: We will need to be so confident in our DR resources that they can play double duty, as a dispatch-able resource on the supply side and a source of load reduction on the demand side. In the space of smart thermostats, our team has been able to examine customer engagement patterns, particularly opt-out behavior, and its implication on overall event performance, which helps to provide confidence around using DR on the supply side as a multipurpose grid resource.

Transformational DR: Most importantly, the DR of the future will need to provide the correct price signals to shift our entire electric demand curve to complement the rest of our electric system. We conduct studies to assess the interplay of emerging technologies with dynamic pricing rates to help utilities identify who benefits and loses when dynamic pricing goes into effect. These studies offer strategies for educating customers about behavioral practices that can transform our demand for electricity and support our new energy future.

Just as utility customers helped to drive the California solar revolution, they also have the capability to turn DR into a grid solution.  We’re excited to be providing our expertise to this crucial area of ensuring the world’s sustainable energy future.

For more information, please contact: Hilary Polis at hpolis@opiniondynamics.com or Olivia Patterson at opatterson@opiniondynamics.com