Residential DR Programs Need Better Device Control

Utility resident demand response (DR) programs have evolved in many ways over the years. Initially focused on Direct Load Controllers (DLC) that provide on/off switches and one-way communication, demand response programs have begun to increase in sophistication. Supported by the Internet-of-Things, utilities are rapidly discovering the operational and customer engagement benefits of bringing smart devices into DR platforms.

What continues to lag, however, is the control for these programs. Smart devices have gotten smarter, but the utility platforms supporting them have not. DR/DERMS platforms tend to operate control programs that link to smart devices using basic, aggregate control. In most cases, basic DR programs are linking to devices (like thermostats, water heaters, EV chargers and home battery systems) that have a ton of flexibility but aren’t using any of it. Call one DR event and everyone gets the same command. It’s the very definition of a one-size-fits-all approach.

Why does this matter? Because treating customers in aggregate risks the success of any DR program. When you call events that are not tailored to your customers, you risk disrupting their lives. Nothing kills a customer’s affinity for their utility like a cold shower in the morning or a summer dinner party with no A/C. 

These issues can be remedied by using a real-time controller. By running this type of system in the cloud, a DR platform can provide the ability to control each device in a DR program individually and with real-time data. Each customer’s usage patterns are understood, and considered when calling demand response events. This not only reduces the risks of disruption already discussed but allows DR/DERMS initiatives to extract greater value for their customers. 

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Some examples of real-time control include:

  • Staggering overnight EV charging to ensure that grid impacts are minimized while keeping customer vehicles charged
  • Pre-heating water heaters using customer preferences as well as load-reduction requirements
  • Setting thermostats based on individual settings as well as historical event opt out patterns

What value can real-time control add? It can be the difference between a successful DR program and one that fails. It can give utilities infinite options to balance the grid, drive new revenue sources and keep customers engaged. It can tailor how much load is shed by each device based on the behavior of your customers. And most importantly, it maximizes the value inherent within smart devices for both the utility and the customer.