One long-standing conundrum in electric power is that digital information technology has the potential to create a lot of benefits and automate a lot of costly real-time functions, but that it is not widely enough deployed. Exciting work at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory is contributing to resolving that conundrum, through transactive control of grid-friendly appliances.
It works like this: you buy an appliance that has one of PNNL’s grid-friendly controller chips installed; the chip can cost anywhere from $5 to $25 depending on how sophisticated the desired appliance response is. In its simplest form, a hot water heater with the grid-friendly controller can send and receive information about how much energy it’s using, and it can be programmed to use less power at various triggers (such as peak hours). If it’s programmed for more sophisticated response, you could program your hot water heater to have an automated response to retail power price changes.
For example, suppose I have chosen a contract with a retail provider in which I see price fluctuations (real time, TOU, CPP, etc.). I could then program my hot water heater to turn down 5 degrees if the price goes to $0.09/kwh, another 5 degrees if the price goes to $0.12/kwh, and so on. Once I’ve done the programming (or my service-oriented retailer has offered to do it for me to win my business), it’s completely automated, and therefore user-friendly. As grid-friendly appliances evolve, changing them after the intial setup is likely to become even more straightforward.
This technology has profound implications, most importantly for network resiliency and reliability and for optimizing grid investment. PNNL estimates that widespread application of grid-friendly appliances could reduce required infrastructure investment by 10 percent. And we all know that the nonlinear nature of peaking demand in this industry means that small reductions in peak consumption, enabled by such technologies, can be big enough to enhance reliability and control power prices. PNNL estimates that the combined savings to customers over 20 years could be $80 billion.
Wired magazine just published an article highlighting the PNNL grid-friendly appliance initiatives, and on an upcoming testbed with appliances supplied by Whirlpool. The article provides a nice overview of this exciting technology and the valuable prospects for its use to create an adaptable, resilient electric power network.