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Energy Central Power Perspectives: Evolution of the Demand Response Market: Exclusive Interview with Christine Riker of Energy Solutions

image credit: Christine Riker

Demand response was at one point a niche idea, a clever innovation for helping utilities match supply with demand in an affordable way that benefitted the customer. But when talking to utility professionals today, it has become clear that demand response will soon become (if it’s not already) a key part of the utility industry’s tool chest in providing power that’s affordable and reliable.

That transition from new idea to industry-accepted program and to the future where demand response is even more ubiquitous has been and will be a fascinating journey to watch, an evolution of strategy, technological ability, and customer acceptance. At the 40th PLMA Conference that starts on November 4, this ever-changing landscape of DR will be the focus of the course being led by Christine Riker, Co-Chair of PLMA Education Planning and Associate Director at Energy Solutions.

Christine was kind enough to answer some of my questions on this course, entitled “Evolution of Demand Response to Distributed Energy Resources: Fundamentals and Path Forward,” so read on to see what PLMA members are going to be learning about next week:

Matt Chester: Thanks for agreeing to share some insights with the Energy Central community ahead of the PLMA Conference! To kick it off, can you share a bit of your background in the industry and what led you to the area of demand response with utilities?

Christine Riker: Honestly, my career path has always been environmentally driven and has been directly led by a personal mission to help reduce the impacts of climate change. I have worked in the industry and at Energy Solutions for over 12 years, where I have found alignment between my personal mission and the company’s mission. I was initially working in supporting the implementation of utility energy efficiency programs and over the last seven years have focused on the implementation of utility automated demand response (DR) programs. That evolution into demand response was in recognition of the major role DR will be needed to play as we integrate more and more renewables onto the electricity grid which are inherently intermittent. DR has become that demand side management tool to better match the flexibility of customer demand with renewable supply, as well as providing value in many other new grid use cases such as non-wires solutions and DER integration.

 

MC: The course you’re leading at the conference is about the evolution of demand response. What’s different today, and more importantly in the coming years, that requires utilities to rethink what their DR initiatives should encompass? How do you balance this rapidly changing DR landscape with the need to still get some utilities on board with active DR programs in the first place?

CR: It is such an exciting time to be a part of the DR industry and see how DR is evolving from what was traditionally an ‘Insurance Policy.’ Initially, DR was only used during major catastrophic events to prevent blackouts, and events were only called once a year or every few years. Now it is becoming a tool that can be used daily to manage a plethora of grid demands. PLMA recognized this coming change and developed the Evolution of Demand Response whitepaper to provide a framework and terminology for the industry to use when discussing this evolution. The general framework of DR 1.0 is traditional DR that is used to meet grid capacity needs, while DR 2.0 includes DR becoming a more integral part of the wholesale electricity market and providing multiple grid services and DR 3.0 is the future of seamless automated integration of DERs through DR.

 

MC: What are the common pain points or challenges that utilities have been facing in this rapidly evolving space that you’re hoping to touch upon in this training?

CR: PLMA initially developed our training series to meet a need voiced by our members. For utilities, this included when someone working in energy efficiency was suddenly transferred to start working in demand response. There was not a reliable, non-biased training available to help these experienced energy professionals begin to learn about a new subject in the energy industry. Sometimes there are vendor focused trainings, but PLMA wanted to create a safe place for learning where none of the attendees felt they were attending a day-long commercial. PLMA also saw a need to support DR vendors as they continued to grow and hire new staff to help them also come up to speed quickly on the building blocks of DR. This need was met with creating two training series with one focused on DR Program Design and one focused on DR Market Value.

We like to think of our conferences as advanced classes, as this is where all of the cutting edge DR topics and projects are discussed and presented. Since many of these presentations are pushing the boundaries on the integration of DR and DERs, PLMA developed the “Evolution of DR: Fundamentals and Path Forward” workshop to take place on the Monday of our conferences as a DR foundation to ensure newer entries in the field have enough background to get the full benefit of the conference. Therefore, in this day-long workshop we take key aspects of DR programs and markets and add a snapshot into the future of DR. The class focuses on covering a breadth of important DR topics with a final icing of DR and DER integration.

MC: As the nature of DR evolves, how does the customer engagement piece of the puzzle change? Is it becoming easier to get customers on board thanks to digital tools, or does added complexity present a new type of hurdle?

CR: Would you accept both as an answer?! Unlike other energy services, such as energy efficiency, demand response is creating an ask of the customer to take action or to allow automatic optimization of their technology. This inherent customer touchpoint can be a great tool for ongoing customer engagement through digital tools and internet-connected devices but as you noted it is a hurdle to maintain customer participation and interest in participating.

This is a unique challenge and opportunity that our members have recognized as well, so PLMA has a specific Customer Engagement interest group focusing on addressing these concerns. Attendees to the 40th PLMA Conference next week are welcome to learn more during the Customer Engagement session.

 

MC: Aside from the Evolution of DR training course, what are some of the presentations you’re hoping to attend yourself or topics you’re eager to learn more about from your peers at the 40th PLMA Conference?

CR: Every time I attend a PLMA conference, I am impressed with how much new and interesting information I learn as well as the great industry relationships I develop during the organized networking events. Most of my work is focused in the Northeast or the West, so for this conference, I am particularly interested in hearing the regionally focused presentations from our attendees working in Florida and the Southwest. There is a long, successful history of demand response in Florida and I am looking forward to hearing about their successes and lessons learned considering the unique structure of being on a peninsula and the dramatic impact of weather events on their electricity grid. _____________________________________________

If you’re interested in hearing more about Christine’s insights into demand response, be sure to find her at the 40th PLMA Conference taking place in St. Petersburg, Florida, from November 4 to 6. You can check out the agenda and register for the conference here.

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