Friday, June 5, 2015

ADS TownHall Covers the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

This entry also appears as a guest blog at Smart Grid Library's Blog

Last week I attended the Association for Demand Response & Smart Grid (ADS) TownHall meeting. Since this was my first time at that particular event, a few things struck me as noteworthy:

  •  Demand Response as a resource. All too often utilities think of Demand Response as what I call “Direct Load Control on Steroids” or the ability to turn stuff off at system peak, covering more equipment. Here Demand Response was explicitly part of the Distributed Energy Resources conversation, not merely as a way to help with stabilizing intermittent generation, but as a resource in its own right. The vendors were definitely leading the way in the discussion, but there was remarkably little “pooh-poo-ing” from the utilities.
  • There is innovation outside California. It was nice to see the discussion deal with the structural elements and issues in states other than California. Certainly, California is still a big part of the conversation, but there’s a heck of a lot happening in “flyover country” as well.
  • As is often the case, the sidebar conversations are more interesting than the presentations. Not knocking the presentations, the ones I saw were very useful. However, it’s always interesting to talk to the presenters later and hear what they wish they could have said.
There were a couple of really interesting new business models and adaptations of existing models, including:
  • Fleetcarma, taking the old-school idea of fleet management services into the age of electric vehicles.
  • Gridmates, building a cloud service, to enable customers to donate their energy savings (or income from customer-owned generation) to people and organizations in need.
I also heard some really cringeworthy statements:
  • Residential Demand Response. “Customers have to want to buy it, and have the app on their phone.” I’m sorry, but we’re talking about appliances here. This is worthy of a blog post in and of itself, but here’s a brief rebuttal:
    • Nobody really cares enough about what their pool pump is doing to want to track it.
    • If the customer needs a phone app to control whether there’s hot water when they need it, you’ve misunderstood or lost sight of your mission.
    • Appliances by definition are things that you don’t pay attention to as long as they’re working the way you want. Any appliance that interferes with that concept will faceplant.
  • Doing everything with a smart phone. “Hey look, a thermostat that goes into “away” mode when it detects that your phone is (a) outside a predetermined area based on the GPS on the phone, or (b) it no longer has contact with the phone via Wi-Fi! Isn’t that great!” For you, maybe. Smart phones make developing a user interface as easy as a few lines of code, and you can have a really pretty gadget on the wall. Increasingly, people (yours truly included) turn their phones OFF at the end of the business day, so that they can interact with the rest of the family without interruption. These people don’t want to have to turn their phones back on just so that the furnace keeps working, or so they can change the thermostat.
Overall, the noteworthy content overruled the cringeworthy content. If you haven’t hung out with the ADS folks, I would suggest doing so. There are some really good ideas being presented and socialized.

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