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North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives launch residential demand response program

image credit: North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives
Peter Key's picture
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I've been a business journalist since 1985 when I received an MBA from Penn State. I covered energy, technology, and venture capital for The Philadelphia Business Journal from 1998 through 2013....

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North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives are dipping their toes into the residential demand response waters.

Four co-ops in eastern North Carolina are offering their members steep discounts on Google Nest or Ecobee smart thermostats if the members agree to let them adjust the thermostats during times of high energy demand.

Members of the Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative, the Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Corporation (EMC), the Lumbee River EMC and South River EMC also can have their thermostat installed free and get a $50 prepaid MasterCard if they have a water heater controller installed, too.

The co-ops are offering the thermostats and water heater controls through the Connect to Save Program, which was launched in June. The program is part of the Brighter Future initiative, under which all 26 co-ops that belong to the North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives network are seeking to halve their 2005 carbon emissions by 2030 and attain net zero carbon emissions by 2050. Connect to Save supports that “by reducing peak demand for power, resulting in both energy and cost savings … and enables more efficient and flexible grid management,” Jimmy Wilkins, the vice president for portfolio and resource optimization at North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives, said in an email.

Wilkins said the program marks the first time North Carolina's Electric Cooperatives have used smart thermostats on such a large scale. The co-ops chose to launch it in a relatively small area so they could see how consumers respond to it before more of them roll it out, although some already have “Bring Your Own Thermostat” programs with similar goals. Lumbee and South River had BYOT programs in place prior to the launch of the Connect to Save program and Wilkins said North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives are looking at expanding them, too.

Because co-ops are owned by their members, Connect to Save has the potential to generate savings for them in multiple ways. It gets them discounts on smart thermostats and $50 a year for participating in it; could enable them to reduce their electricity usage and therefore their electric bills; and could enable North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives to pay less for wholesale power, which would enable them to charge their members less for retail power.

Under the program, participants can have their thermostats adjusted up to three degrees on days that an event is declared. Additionally, their homes may be heated or cooled in advance of an event to keep their homes more comfortable during the event.

At least one event will be declared each month and up to 48 can be declared in a year. Events can be called on three consecutive days and last up to four hours. Winter events are typically called between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m. and summer events are typically called between 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Wilkins said the co-ops expect to declare the maximum number of events in a year and anticipate that 15 to 25 will be in summer. Eighty percent of the members of the four co-ops launching the program have electric heat, he said.

Wilkins said North Carolina’s Electric Cooperatives planned the program for about 18 months before rolling it out and are already benefitting from it.

"Working collaboratively to develop and deploy the program has led to increased efficiencies, and cooperatives will continue to work together to execute it and realize its benefits," he said.

 

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Nicole Arnold's picture
Nicole Arnold on Sep 3, 2020

A great way to handle peak demand and demonstrate a trust relationship with member-owners.

Matt Chester's picture
Matt Chester on Sep 3, 2020

The trust relationship is an interesting point, Nicole. Are co-ops actively seeking out projects with this as an end goal, or is it more of a 'nice to have' side benefit? 

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