The first line of defense against blackouts is intelligent grid systems that monitor and direct power; but utilities realize that they can manage their assets a lot better if consumers would use power more prudently. Utilities have already got commercial and industrial (C&I) customers on programs restricting power usage during peak times to balance the load over the course of a day in exchange for lower power rates.
"C&I customers' cooperation is only part of the solution, as residential users account for 20 percent of U.S. energy usage," said Frost & Sullivan Energy & Environment Vice President Roberta Gamble. "In recent years, utilities have been trying to make home owners more aware of their energy usage and lower their overall usage by incentivizing lower usage during peak times."
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The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is demonstrating the benefits of deploying smarter systems to all end-user tiers. It works with 155 municipalities and cooperative utilities, which resell its power to residential and C&I customers. These utilities are recognizing the value in implementing smarter energy offering solutions such as programmable thermostats that switch on demand-enabled appliances and save enough energy to bring rates down.
TVA and its local utility partners are spreading awareness of these solutions through initiatives such as the Tennessee Valley Smart Energy Communities project. This is a smart project to build a smart community that incorporates the most innovative energy-efficient technologies and is smart grid-enabled. TVA also aims to provide extreme energy makeovers such as demonstration projects in older homes in low to moderate income areas that will benefit from deep energy retrofits.
Utilities have only traditionally sold solutions to energy-intensive C&I participants; and are now realizing that selling to residential consumers is a whole new ball game. As cost saving is a huge motivation in the C&I sectors, the participants do not back down while offering utilities control over lighting or a compressor switch in exchange for significant cost savings. However, residential users are not likely to be swayed by cost savings if it means relinquishing blind control over various home systems to utilities. They are more likely to be persuaded by the "coolness" of controlling the HVAC through a smart phone.
Utilities have faced several challenges in the rollout of smart meters in their bid to comply with energy mandates. While smart meters greatly help manage energy by adjusting the time of use, pricing, and alerting utilities to power outages or unusual usage patterns, their installations have also invited lawsuits from private citizens over the perceived intrusiveness of utilities collecting up-to-the-minute data on their power usage.
"Smart thermostat programs can be a real boon to utility grid and power management, and utilities are creating more customer-focused messages about these programs to reveal their non-intrusiveness," observed Gamble.
Smart thermostats offer never-before convenience – it either sets itself or has easy scheduling. The homeowner can access its controls remotely, enabling both energy and money savings. Constructing positive and powerful messages around the solution's smartness and ease of use will go a long way in increasing its appeal among residential consumers.
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