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A Smart Grid Pilot: Early Findings at AESP Spring Meeting

Recently, at the spring conference of the Association of Energy Services Professionals in Portland, OR, representatives from National Grid, along with partners CEIVA Energy and Itron, presented some early findings of the Smart Energy Solutions program, which is available to up to 15,000 residents in Worcester, MA.

National Grid formally launched its Smart Energy Solutions program in January 2015 in compliance with the Massachusetts Green Communities Act of 2008, which required utilities to propose and gain approval for a smart grid pilot. Presenters included Lynn Westerlind of National Grid, Stephen Johnson of Itron and Wannie Park of CEIVA Energy.

Among the program’s features are time of use plans with bill protection, smart meters, a web portal, home energy management devices, demand response capabilities, and an opt-out option. It is the largest pilot of its kind in the Northeast. The program has incorporated a digital picture frame as one of the home energy management devices.  This picture frame interface connects with relevant apps and the smart meter, and enables communication with the utility and with other home energy management devices in the home.

In addition, customers have access to a Virtual Home app. “Through this new app, participants can view a layout of their home and click on different parts of the home to see how much energy they’re using,” said Lynn Westerlind, director of Program Operations for National Grid. “We want to empower them to use this information to make better energy choices.”

There are two pricing plans:

  • A Smart Rewards Pricing Plan offers customers three different rates. For 330 days of the year, customers can choose to use energy on peak: (M-F 8am-8pm) or off-peak (M-F 8pm-8am & all day on weekends and holidays).  During designated Conservation Days there is a third rate that applies to hours designated as peak events. (Maximum of 30 peak event days.)
  • A Conservation Day Rebate Plan allows customers to remain on a flat basic service rate and earn a rebate at the end of the year for any savings achieved during conservation day peak events.

The program only recently launched, so the results, which will help inform the utility’s larger grid modernization plan, are preliminary. However,

  • 95% of the customers are on the Smart Rewards Pricing Plan rate
  • Almost 1,000 customers have the picture frame technology installed
  • Customers report being satisfied with the technology and home energy management tools

And there have been some lessons learned. They emphasized understanding the subtle differences between marketing and communicating and in recognizing that customers want to have choice, control and convenience. When enrolling customers, the web process must be smooth and easy, and embrace early adopters and ‘friendly installs’ (e.g. employees). This process should also include developing a plan for renters and landlords, and, where practical, offer a choice between a professional installation and a self-install.

”Our initial goal to introduce solutions to help customers understand and easily manage their energy use has provided some real positive customer feedback,” explains William Jones, director, Smart Energy Solutions for National Grid. The presenters said to use qualified and trained installers for home installation; be prepared for challenges associated with certain types of home construction that might impact signal strength throughout the home; plan for multi-family and meter vault scenarios; and develop and maintain the capability to support solutions where needed.


Suzanne Jones is Vice President of the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP).


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