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Energy Management: Teamwork...Dream Work

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Imagine a home equipped with a smart, interactive energy management system housed in a 7-foot-tall white monolith that obeys your every command.  Not to be confused with sci-fi films including inexplicable monoliths or onery AI units, this new residential complex is taking a different approach to energy management.   A recent collaboration between The Wasatch Group, a real estate developer, sonnen, a battery maker and Rocky Mountain Power utility company may change the way utilities use, store, and manage energy.  Marketed in Salt Lake City, UT as “the perfect lifestyle,” the 600 luxury dwellings feature an innovative way to manage individual energy consumption.  Soleil Lofts was built as a virtual power plant (VPP) and each of the 600 units houses a 7-foot-tall lithium-iron phosphate battery that stores electricity generated by a 5.2-megawatt solar array.  The utility company controls the stored energy and will use a portion of it, as needed, to help balance the grid.  “We’re able to store some of that excess renewable energy and utilize it at a time when customers need it the most,” says Bill Comeau, Rocky Mountain Power’s vice president for customer experience and innovation.  "We integrated Soleil Lofts into our energy management system so that when there’s a grid issue, the batteries will automatically dispatch energy based upon real-time system conditions.” 

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Another partnership that promotes energy management is taking shape in Ann Arbor, MI.  The Washtenaw Area Apartment Association  partnered with Livable, a residential and commercial utility management platform to promote responsible tenant utility consumption.  The platform allows users to assimilate information quickly and turn the data into immediate savings.  “The pandemic has brought us a remote workforce, resulting in increased consumption and a spike in utility costs,” said Livable CEO Daniel Sharabi.

What can be done to help renters not living luxury?  Or for tenants who can’t afford to live in areas that are being modernized or undergoing improvements?  Most states have energy efficiency programs to help homeowners save on energy costs.  But in most cases, renters are left out in the cold when it comes to energy management and energy efficiency.  “It’s a shame. It’s like the people that could have the biggest difference as far as savings, the people who are struggling and sometimes face utility terminations, are also sometimes the most unlikely to get weatherized,” said Camilo Viveiros, The George Wiley Center’s executive director in Rhode Island.  Raising awareness with property owners is imperative.  Private developers and real-estate firms in the state are taking steps to help renters save money while they increase the value of their property.  “Rental property owners make decisions about features that affect energy efficiency, including the quality of appliances, insulation, windows, and doors. Tenants, in contrast, make choices about energy use such as turning lights on or off, setting the thermostat, or deciding what water temperature to use for showering or washing clothes. Incentives for conservation or for indifference to energy waste depend on who pays the bills.” For those reasons there is still some debate about who should get receive the incentive.  Terri Wright, an organizer for Providence-based Direct Action for Rights and Equality (DARE) and a member of the Tenant and Homeowners Association, is hopeful that stronger legislation will make energy efficiency more feasible for renters who have little control over the properties they live in.  States and utility companies are encouraged to join manufacturers, retailers, distributors, and suppliers to focus on efficient home and building energy management systems.  What successful partnerships has your utility made to increase energy efficiency for customers?

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