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Friday, May 1, 2015

What the Smart Energy Technology Solution Project Award to Glasgow Means

By now we hope you have heard that Glasgow EPB’s proposed Smart Energy Technology Solution (SETS) was chosen for funding. That immediately means that money will come to our community, but it also means that our community will reap long term benefits. Our proposed demonstration of what the next generation of electric utility should look like was judged to be the most likely to provide really new ideas for all local power companies. We are excited as a team, and we are ecstatic that the community is working together to bring these research dollars into the local economy. In the history of our community, this direct injection of capital exceeds nearly every other grant that has ever landed here. But perhaps now it is time to fill the community in on more of just what this money is going to buy us.

This research was announced several years ago. From the very beginning, the EPB team felt our community was perfectly situated to demonstrate smart energy technology. The EPB mission statement dictates that we provide our services “at costs that make them practical and improve the standard of living for all of the people of Glasgow.” We take that mission statement to heart in everything we do. Glasgow’s municipally owned broadband network, and all of the other advanced technology deployed by EPB, flow from our determination to accomplish that mission. Now the SETS will add to our process of innovation in support of our mission.

The basis for our move to build a broadband network in 1988 flowed from our “infotricity” theory. Simply put, infotricity is the combination of broadband networks (information) and electricity to produce a system that manages energy - minute by minute. The goal is to contain consumption to the generation capacity that can be operated most efficiently. This idea is a complete change from the way we have operated electric power systems for the last century. Since the beginning, we have allowed the random demand for electricity to dictate the construction of a constantly growing set of generation plants. As those plants grew, so did the cost of electric power to pay for the additional plants. Even worse, we have really never paid for all of the costs (which include healthcare, depletion of fresh water, and environmental impact of acquiring the fuel necessary to run the plants) associated with our increasing demand for electricity during only a few hours of some days.

We proposed a project that connects infotricity theory, new infotricity retail rates, and several elements of research already performed here in Glasgow, to even newer technology ideas that are evolving presently. Glasgow EPB customers will get the opportunity to apply for extreme energy make-overs to their homes, ecobee Wifi enabled thermostats, GE Geospring heat pump water heaters, as well as very new home battery systems that will store off-peak energy and supply that energy to home energy needs during on-peak hours. We think we can install these technologies, control them with new software that builds upon everything we have already learned about predicting Glasgow’s monthly peak demand using the best available weather prediction and load prediction tools, to prove that Glasgow’s total electric demand can be reshaped to better fit within the capacity of generation plants - with a much lower impact on our economy and our environment. If we are right, Glasgow residents will benefit greatly and the utility industry as a whole will have a model for each of them to follow for their respective communities.

All of this work is on a very tight schedule. After we get contracts with our vendors executed, we will evaluate customers who indicate an interest in this project. They will be asked to provide extensive data so that we can evaluate what technologies, or ultra-efficient improvements, might work to reshape their daily demand. Those customers determined to be a good match for the project will be offered contracts that will cover the details of participation in SETS, and those that choose to sign, will be receiving some or all of the technologies we want to study.

Here is how we think all of the elements of our SETS project will work together. Every day Glasgow EPB will use weather forecasts and load projections to attempt to predict the likely days and times for Glasgow’s monthly peak hour demand. Using those predictions, we will help customers who agree to be a part of the research reduce their demand during the predicted peak times by instructing the water heater to heat water the night before, the thermostat to pre-warm (or pre-cool) the house before the predicted peak, and the battery system to charge with off-peak energy and discharge energy to the home during peak hours. All of these functions should work together, using Glasgow’s broadband network and EPB’s internet-connected electric meters, to dramatically reduce the Coincident Peak Demand charge that is an element of the new Infotricity Retail Rates.

Beyond just helping Glasgow customers reduce their bills under the new rates, reshaping a community’s total energy demand will help our energy supplier run fewer generation plants to supply our needs. When other communities replicate our work, the reduction in generation needs should come down dramatically. As fewer generation plants are needed to supply our energy needs, the door will swing open for the installation of more generation that uses renewable energy sources, like solar and wind. Since Glasgow’s new Infotricity Rates will free Glasgow EPB from the need to sell more energy to produce the revenue necessary to support the maintenance of our infrastructure, Glasgow EPB will become a resource for helping all of its customers explore these new technologies and how they might be used for Glasgow homes and businesses.

Glasgow EPB’s mission statement provided the basis for our ongoing interest in our infotricity theories. This SETS project will provide us the funding necessary to prove those theories and, in doing so, provide that improved standard of living that our team is committed to accomplish. The SETS will not be the end of our efforts in that regard, it is only our latest initiative. More of these projects will surely follow, and we will continue to search for all opportunities to make our community a better place to live.