The Trouble With Air-Conditioners
Demand response is a topic that can easily bring a sleepy man to dreamland.
So it was with some trepidation that I attended the New York Academy of Sciences' "Market Makers: Developing and Deploying Energy Efficiency Technology in NYC" event, part of Climate Week.
I was glad I did. Perhaps it's his "down under" accent or comedian's demeanor, but Colin Smart of Con Edison actually made utility scale demand response engaging and, well, almost electrifying.
Con Edison has been promoting green initiatives for some time now, but certain problems impede their progress: dense urban environments are ill-suited to the promise of smart meter technologies, consumer behaviors are hard to change, and there are those pesky window air conditioners.
Yes, window air conditioners. In fact, Smart, Con Ed's section manager for demand response, is more concerned about window air conditioners than the potential impacts of electric vehicles in the future.
"There are 6.1 million window air conditioner units in New York City," Smart told the audience. "That represents 2500 MW, approximately one-fifth of the peak load we have to manage."
Some units are operated as much as 24 hours a day, especially in peak summer months. Others are run throughout the day or overnight. They can't be controlled centrally and, because of their numbers and inefficiency put stress on the grid.
In the future, Smart posits, the adoption rate of window air conditioners will be greater than electric vehicles. The more air conditioners, the greater the impact.
"While I do not know exactly when the electric vehicles will charge, I do not expect them all to charge at the same time," says Smart. "With the air-conditioning units I only need a weather forecast to know exactly when they will be used and they will all operate in a coincidental fashion."
To solve this problem, Con Edison turned to ThinkEco, a New York City based start-up that has developed what it calls the "Modlet."
The Modlet, or "modern outlet" plugs into your existing electricity outlet and helps eliminate energy waste by shutting off your appliances when you're not using them. The unit is programmable by the consumer, who can use it to control energy use on a pre-set schedule or via their computer or smartphone.
"You can see the energy you are consuming and make adjustments." said ThinkEco's chief strategy officer Mei Shibata. "You can even use it to shut off your toaster if you accidentally leave it on."
The device, which was tested by Con Edison with 200 customers on their air conditioning units over the summer, will soon be available to consumers through retail stores.
"People like trying the Modlet on devices they're curious about, which may or may not necessarily correlate with the largest power hogs in the home, but it's their way to personalize what energy consumption means to them," Shibata said. "And that's great because personalized knowledge is what helps to change behavior around efficiency."
Con Ed has also partnered with Viridity Energy and the New York City Economic Development Corporation to optimize advanced building technologies and solar generation from city-owned properties.
Viridity's software platform evaluates the customer’s overall energy load and optimizes energy usage by integrating and aggregating load, storage, and any on-site generation resources, such as ice or solar, into a virtual generation system.
That not only reduces stress on the grid, especially during peak load times, but can help reduce costs for consumers through incentives and reducing the need for costly infrastructure investments that are passed on to the consumer.
Scott Edward Anderson is currently global marketing director for cleantech at Ernst & Young. He is the founder of the popular blog, The Green Skeptic, and the VerdeStrategy consultancy. He has held management positions with Ashoka and The Nature Conservancy and is co-founder of the Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic. An award-winning poet, Scott was a John Sawhill Conservation Leadership Fellow, ...
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