Energy trends – any trends, for that matter – tend to bleed across arbitrary date markers without so much as a nod to the New Year. But nonetheless, calendar changes allow us an opportunity to take stock and observe direction, to broadly note the ways things are moving.
Demand response isn't new – in its most basic form, it's been around for several decades. But these days it's a commodity, a part of broader demand management strategies, not simply a turning-down of the thermostat. It's tradeable, predictable and revenue generating. Keeping an eye on broad trends can give us a glimpse into where things are headed, if we are able to connect the dots.
“The way we approach customers with energy efficiency and demand response is rapidly changing,” said CLEAResult CTO David McCann. Based in Austin, the firm helps design and implement energy programs and in the past it was a very “project-based” type of engagement, he said. “Two years ago a customer wasn't really aware.”
“Now it's customer-based,” he said, “Instead of selling the value proposition of a single measure or project, we're trying to engage the customer along an entire a journey, and I think that applies to efficiency and demand response.”
That's a sentiment echoed over at Opower, a leading company focused on engaging customers around behavioral demand response. According to Josh Lich, director of product marketing, next year will see a focus on utility demand management programs being merged with customer experience efforts.
“For years, utilities have treated demand-side-management programs as compliance measures,” he said. But “rising customer expectations, program cost-effectiveness challenges, and regulatory pressures” are contributing to a rise in demand management programs that also emphasize what the customer is seeing.
McCann describes it as a “giant opportunity funnel,” where utilities have increasing information with which to engage customers in just about any manner or on any project they want.
So, with a nod to the idea that utilities have always been looking to engage with customers, here are five consumer-driven demand management trends to watch for in the new year.
1. Expansion of behavioral demand response
While behavioral demand response has been around for years, it's only recently that the concept has been viewed as something reliable, predictable and scientific.
This year, BDR provider Opower announced that its programs saved utilities 3% to 5% off peak demand in the summer months– the same savings it saw in 2014. In an industry where reliability and planning are central, proving that such programs can deliver consistent returns will be essential for the sector's growth.
Empowered by large amounts of energy usage data coming out of smart meters, behavioral demand response will likely continue to grow in significance next year.
"We haven't really scratched the surface," said McCann. "When you take behavioral demand response and start to cut it up into a bunch of various ways of communicating with the customer and changing their behavior, there's a long road ahead."
Navigant is predicting worldwide spending on behavioral and analytical demand management will grow from about $215 million this year to $2.5 billion in 2024. Most of that spending, about $1.5 billion, will take place in the United States.
2. The rise of Big Data management
At its core, behavioral demand management is all about using big data insights to induce small consumption changes. "The increased availability of near real-time energy data from AMI deployments ... will compel regulators and market participants to seek out new innovative approaches," said Opower Vice President Jim Kapsis.
We're talking about the ability to gently nudge consumers' energy demand down a few percent when most needed; a valuable asset to utilities, and one they can put in place without a lot of regulatory hoops or special equipment, assuming they have the data needed to effectively engage customers.
With the ever-increasing number of connected devices able to engage with energy management, there is "more and more data available to help understand customer behavior," said McCann.
"We're seeing the proliferation of smart devices – everything from a wi-fi thermostat to light bulbs to a washer and dryer or water heater," Earth Networks' Chief Marketing Officer Leslie Ferry told Utility Dive last year. The company, which owns the popular WeatherBug app, has been working to integrate its extensive weather data into utilities' demand response offerings.
"The Internet of Things will help us get much more intelligent, at a very personal level, at an individual-home level, to ultimately help the utility manage operations and the efficient use of the grid," she said.
3. More movement on EVs
While cheap gas isn't doing the electric vehicle industry any favors right now, expect electric vehicles to continue to grow. They "seem nascent now, but a year or two from now you will see an explosion in market penetration and a dramatic increase in usage," said McCann.
The Department of Energy expects a 400% growth in annual sales of plug-in electric vehicles by 2023. While they represent a small portion of the more than 260 million passenger vehicles in the U.S., DOE says that by that time, there will be more than 2.7 million electric cars on the road in the U.S.
That expected growth in electric vehicles holds a big opportunity for utilities. Last year, Tesla CEO Elon Musk told a conference of utility executives that he expects demand for grid electricity to at least double by the end of the century thanks to the proliferation of electric vehicles and other plug-in devices.
Power companies in California are in the regulatory approval process to build out networks of vehicle chargers for the state's nation-leading EV market, and utilities in other states are beginning to explore how they can support the growth of electric vehicles as well. Companies like NRG and PG&E are testing how fleets of vehicles can be aggregated for demand response and other load management functions on the grid.
4. The emergence of third party energy services
California and New York currently lead the nation in allowing third parties to begin providing energy services. Both states have been working to rethink how the utility industry operates and profits, and both are pushing utilities to begin operating as platform providers for third party services. New York's "Reforming the Energy Vision" proceeding has pushed utilities to envision new business models. In California, the state is leveraging smart meter data to turn demand management into a resource which is dependable and generates revenue.
For energy efficiency, that has meant new markets and products are now available to consumers that might have appeared too expensive before.
“The barrier to entry has always been price," said McCann. But more efficient lighting could become a service to watch. "We've seen a number of third parties amortizing the lighting across months or years, and it becomes affordable for customers," he said.
Utilities are finding new opportunities for energy savings through partnerships with third party providers as well. PG&E, ComEd and TXU, for instance, have all partnered with Bidgely, a software startup that provides consumers with disaggregated energy consumption data on a mobile app to help them to reduce usage.
5. The maturity of Home Energy Management Systems
The HEMS market has been an unpredictable beast in recent years, as consumers showed wavering interest in devices designed to give insight into energy use. But the Internet of Things has breathed new life into the industry, and McCann said the systems are beginning to create a valuable feedback loop, providing both the energy provider and consumer with information on how to manage power usage.
Earlier this year, Manifest Mind predicted the HEM market to reach an annual value of $2.2 billion in North America by 2022, more than doubling the industry's value today. And advancements in mobile technology, such as more responsive apps from multiple utilities, allow customers to control their home devices — from thermostats to water heaters — from anywhere.
"It's a lot to do with the consumerization of devices like thermostats," said McCann.
"Home energy management systems go beyond the smart meter to a connected system... In general, consumers are more educated now than they were two years ago," he said. "As they start to automate their homes and businesses, energy management goes beyond the simple smart meter."