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Exploring Demand Response Events Through a Smart Home Lens

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Emma Burger's picture
Residential Portfolio Lead ICF

As a Residential Portfolio Manager, I work to implement energy efficiency and demand response programs for ICFs clients in the mid-atlantic region. I personally manage a smart home pilot and work...

  • Member since 2022
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  • Jul 27, 2022
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This item is part of the Energy Efficiency - July 2022 SPECIAL ISSUE, click here for more

As customers continue to adopt smart home technologies and platforms, utilities have a unique opportunity to leverage such technologies in developing new energy savings and demand reduction programs for the future. Through the EmPOWER Maryland Energy Efficiency Act, the joint Maryland utilities explored how smart home technology and existing efficiency programs could be leveraged to improve customer engagement, promote program growth, and increase options for demand management. During the 2018-2020 program cycle, Pepco Holdings, a unit of Exelon Corporation serving Washington, D.C., Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County in Maryland, embraced the opportunity to focus on demand response capacity attributed to the installation of a smart home kit for eligible Pepco customers in their Maryland service territory.

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The Pepco Smart Home Pilot kit contained devices to control both large loads (electric water heaters and pool pumps) and medium loads (dehumidifiers and window air conditioning units) and were provided at no additional cost to qualified, Pepco Maryland residential customers. The kits included the following devices:

  • Gateway/Hub: The nucleus of the kit and how all devices connect and communicate with each other via wireless connection
  • Entry sensors: Two separate pieces affixed to doors and windows providing key data to improve the artificial intelligence’s (AI) ability to automatically control devices
  • Motion sensor: Allowed for occupancy detection when placed in high traffic areas of the home (i.e. kitchen, living room, etc.)
  • Temperature/humidity sensor: Provided advanced control of devices that rely on temperature and humidity measurements like thermostats and dehumidifiers
  • Smart plugs: Provided options to automate devices or appliances plugged into a 120V outlet like dehumidifiers, space heaters, room air conditioners
  • Smart switches: Professionally installed light switches in the home
  • Large load controller: Required electrician install and could be paired with pool pumps and electric water heaters

The Pepco Smart Home Pilot kit leveraged a third-party AI and Internet-of-things (IoT) platform to build the Pepco Smart Home app to engage with customers and provide them with real time access to energy efficiency automations and quick adjustments to installed devices. With the goal of enrolling 800 customers into the Pilot, targeted marketing campaigns were deployed, including: direct mail, email, online ads, and paid social media. Initial recruitment emails began in July 2019 and subsequent campaigns started in September 2019. The marketing campaigns informed customers of the opportunity to participate in the Pilot while educating them on how the smart home kit could help lower their electricity costs and increase their home comfort.

While professional installation of smart home kits started in July 2019, the Pilot ceased installations on March 16, 2020 due to COVID-19. At that time, 86% of smart home kits were installed for enrolled customers. Demand response testing for the Pilot was set to begin in Summer 2020, however, considering the impacts of COVID-19, customer comfort, health, and safety were top of mind in determining how to move forward. Pepco and their support team decided that, to minimize impacts to customers, demand response events would focus only on large load controllers and not include control over smart thermostats or smart plugs.

Between July 15 and September 30, 2022, ten demand response events were held for the 66 customers with large load controllers installed mostly on water heaters and one pool pump. At least 80% of eligible customers participated in each of the events, however, participation decreased over the course of the demand response season with participation dropping from 92% in July to 80% in September. Across the 66 participants with large load controllers, load shed demand reduction per hour of event varied from 0.23 kW (on 8/26/2020) to 0.39 kW (on 9/30/2020) corresponding to total household savings between 26 kWh and 82 kWh. Results from the ten demand response events also showed a statistically significant “snap-back” in the post-event hour for most events.

Although the pandemic impacted the Pilot’s ability to carry out demand response events on devices other than large load controllers, it provided several lessons learned to apply to future pilots. Customer feedback showed interest in adding more devices to their smart home platform beyond what the Pepco Smart Home Pilot kit had to offer, and the desire for access to additional compatible devices through an online store or big box retailers. Many other lessons learned are addressed in Pepco’s new iteration of the Automated Residential Technologies Pilot running from 2021-2023. This Pilot will provide greater insight into the exciting world of smart home technology and offer more opportunities to not only educate customers, but also gain an improved understanding of their behaviors and household energy habits.

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Thank Emma for the Post!
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JESSE NYOKABI's picture
JESSE NYOKABI on Aug 3, 2022

This is a great idea and way forward.

Samir Trivedi's picture
Samir Trivedi on Aug 3, 2022

I think kit with multiple sensors backed by AI and machine learning is a giant leap forward from the simple HVAC management back in days! This application always had low participation but easy installation and inclusion of more devices in home can be engaging for customers. Bringing in solar into this mix may help with steady participation because customer will have the same experience during hot or cold days from the solar energy while reducing pressure on grid. Win win for sustainability for the healthy planet.

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