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EEGR Buildings are in Peak Demand

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Glen Spry's picture
CEO & President sensorsuite

Glen Spry. CEO and President at SensorSuite, Inc - A former energy utility executive with extensive knowledge of Asia Pacific, European, and North American energy markets, Glen is now applying...

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  • Jun 8, 2021 4:45 pm GMT
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The housing market is heating up across North America.  Multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) are using advanced algorithms to cool electricity demand in response to system events; turning a portfolio of homes into an energy efficient grid resource (EEGR).

Electricity grids are pretty binary.  To serve 1 kW of demand, system operators need to procure and transmit 1 kW of just-in-time generation. The non-binary aspect of grid management is that the 1kW of demand is a moving target; demand changes second to second, day to day, and year to year.  Over time load shapes emerge as recognizable patterns; system planners pull out their crystal balls to file peak demand forecasts for each of the 8760 hours of a given year; they then add a bit of reserve capacity to the anticipated demand; and voila, the electricity grid reliably supplies electricity to our homes under normal circumstances.

Still, normal circumstances have not been seen in 2020.  In that year, it was Texas.  This year, will other parts of the US and Canada face similar energy emergencies?  Perhaps so, the North American Reliability Corporation (NERC) warns, ‘the summer of 2021 is shaping up to be a challenge for electric system operators in many parts of North America’.

In Canada, we are confronted with a new energy system.  Ontario’s summer peaking electricity system is supported by a wealth of installed capacity; consisting of the following fuel mix: nuclear 33%, gas 29%, 23% hydro, 12% wind, as well as 2% biofuels and solar photovoltaics.  Ontario features an estimated capacity of 26GW with a peak demand somewhere around 22.5GW on a really hot day in July; whereby, electricity load is largely driven by HVAC cooling requirements.

Nothing earth shattering so far, I hear you say.  So why is this relevant to an article targeting EEGR buildings?  Well, as I mentioned above, one of the largest contributors to peak demand is residential space conditioning.  The very HVAC systems that are in our homes, offices, and multi-unit residential buildings.  In Ontario, air conditioning alone accounts for 1/3 of system peak demand.  When taking into account a perceivably changing environment, the constant will be that we, as consumers, will still want to stay cool and comfortable on the hottest days of any summer.  There will just be more of them and likely a few days with record breaking requirements feeding our demand for more energy to keep us cool.

We don’t have to look too far afield to see similar trends playing out on the global stage.  In fact, one of the best examples is the slow moving train wreck of this summer's forecast capacity shortage in California.  NERC has estimated 10 GWh of unmet electricity demand due to above average temperature forecasts.  For perspective, that equates to about 555,000 households (2.22 million people) without power for at least 1 hour this summer throughout the State of California..

There are not many levers that can be pulled when confronted by such a significant capacity shortage that requires a timely resolution.  You cannot simply construct a new gas peaker plant in a couple of weeks.  You cannot just import more electricity, as interconnects require coordinated action.  Often times these neighboring jurisdictions are dealing with the same issue, at the same time, and even if they were not our domestic resources would fail to resolve energy emergencies.  Further complicating issues is the national security constraints that demand some level of energy independence.  Nor can wind and solar be relied upon to fill the gaps, since they are intermittent generation sources with challenges integrating into our grid.

So, system operators rely on demand response options to avoid the rolling brownouts and extended system outages.  While no silver bullet exists, there is a new breed of technology incredibly well suited to support the grid.  An EEGR building is an intelligent, highly energy efficient, and responsive structure.  EEGR buildings provide both demand response for immediate load reduction and an aggregated portfolio of EEGR properties that embed an operational reserve for the interconnected grid.

You see, when we are running an EEGR building, we are already making control decisions on a minute-by-minute basis to respond to a reserve capacity call with 10 minutes notice.  This gives us nine minutes to make a coffee before our responsive energy management platform automatically responds to the call.

Through a deployment of artificial intelligence systems, a symbiotic relationship emerges;, whereby the binary nature of supply and demand is relegated to where it should be, the history books. Targeting EEGR buildings as an energy efficient grid resource opens up a two-fold benefit to grid.  First, EEGR buildings release upwards of 30% capacity back to the grid through an intelligent cloud-based energy efficiency portfolio.  Second, EEGR buildings while delivering in excess of 50% load flexibility for shorter duration operational reserve requirements. It's not like these buildings peak at 4am, their peak demand is highly correlated to system peak demand which makes them the perfect resource to help fill the gap.

This coming summer will be one to watch, how many people will be without power and for how long?  We can expect hundreds of thousands, if not millions of households to be impacted in the United States alone.  But with a compounding capacity shortage, it's anyone’s guess as to what the total will be when we make it out the other side.

One thing is known: an EEGR building is an asset that helps soften the impact of capacity shortages.  We appreciate that SensorSuite offers only one tool in an emerging tool set for system operators, but this tool is no longer in the R&D bucket. The age of EEGR buildings is here today!  These grid resources are highly efficient, highly responsive, and are now proven.  Most importantly, EEGR buildings are waiting on the sidelines and ready to be called into the game.  If your electricity distribution network is capacity constrained, SensorSuite can launch an initiative to build an EEGR building portfolio tailored to your needs.  Now is the time to act, as waiting only delays the resiliency needed to stabilize the smart electricity grid and mitigate the risks associated with a low-carbon economy.

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Julian Jackson's picture
Julian Jackson on Jun 17, 2021

That's an interesting article. Some years ago, I worked on a report that analysed green buildings in terms of RoI. It found, if I might generalise, that eco-friendly buildings, whether residential, commercial or industrial, were popular with people, and therefore could command a premium rent or sale price. Is that the case with EEGR buildings?  Does a small investment have dividends for the building owner?

Glen Spry's picture
Glen Spry on Aug 16, 2021

Hi Julian, thanks for your comment and apologies for the tardy repsonse.

The returns on these projects are rarely measured beyond the immediate financial returns (usually 2.5-4.5 years depending on the grid they are attached to). The cap rate returns are equally important but again rarely figure into the cost-benefit analysis of a retrofit but are tangible. Here in Ontario, a typical cap rate of 5% will yield a 20x return on the saved operating expenses generated from the energy efficiency project.  With that said it would be fair to say that the buying public as a whole is becoming a little more discerning in their buying or renting of building spaces. Also, I have noticed a significant increase over the last couple of years of Real Estate Investment Trusts (REIT's) publishing and promoting their ESG goals and performance reports, one could say that they wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't delivering some positive brand value at the very least.

David Katz's picture
David Katz on Aug 5, 2021

Great description of the challenges in multi residential buildings. In addition to the smart AI controls, improving the building envelope especially the windows where the heat is lost are also needed. Having AI controls will allow for HVAC to machine learn and adjust the sequence of operations to the new reduced heat loss. 

Glen Spry's picture
Glen Spry on Aug 16, 2021

Thanks for the comment David, 

You're bang on there. Our systems are making run-time adjustments on a minute-by-minute basis, we record over 180 data points a second, and each of these data points are crunched to produce the most comfortable environment for the least amount of energy. that is to say, the moment an upgrade is made to the building envelope the feedback loop is already making runtime optimizations. Since we are already manipulating the assets within the building at such a granular level we are also able to leverage the system to hunt down any demand flexibility within the system as well.  We are now at the point where we can leverage the energy efficiency system to produce demand-side flexibility. fun times ahead for sure...;) 

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