Women biting pencil while looking at laptop.

With 2020 mercifully coming to an end, it’s fair to say that we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and our ways of life in the face of a global pandemic. We also learned about the importance of innovation and adapting to new information so we can plan for what’s next.

When it comes to the energy industry, the last few months have delivered a handful of key lessons that can now be supported with data. These learnings can be applied to improve the way we all interact with energy. Last month, for example, we had the opportunity to see the real-life operational benefits of demand response during heatwaves, and earlier in the year, we tracked how the onset of COVID-19 shifted weekday residential load profiles to closely resemble weekend profiles from previous years.

If you are interested in seeking more information and insights, take a look back at part one of this blog series, where we delved into our favorite reports during the back-to-school season. The following five reports provide some background and suggestions for best practices moving forward.

  1. FERC Demand Response & Advanced Metering — FERC’s annual Demand Response & Advanced Metering (DRAM) Report covers a retrospective of technology, policy and demand response capacity at the national and regional levels. At the national level, customer enrollment in time-varying rates was 6.9%, and advanced meter deployment reached 52.2% of the residential customer class in 2017. We know from the Edison Foundation report (featured in part one) that advanced metering has now reached more than 70% of homes. But has the time-varying rates and demand response program participation grown by a similar increment? What types of federal and regional regulations could influence the volume of utility offerings and customer participation?
  2. 2019 Utility Demand Response Market Snapshot — Demand response (DR) is increasingly important as the range of daily minimum and maximum demand expands and utilities make commitments to more renewable energy. This report revealed the following insights:
    – Utilities reported 20.8 GW of enrolled DR capacity in 2018.
    – Behavioral demand response made up 785.1 MW across 54 utilities, including seven pilots.
    – The maps in this report show state-level capacity rather than program budgets. With about 1/4 of total DR enrollment from A/C control and thermostats, conceptually, it seems that summer demand response potential is higher in southern regions in the U.S. But is that the case and is it more or less costly per MW to access demand response resources in those regions?
  3. PNNL: Changes in Electricity Load Profiles Under COVID-19: Implications of ‘The New Normal’ for Electricity Demand — 2020 has been full of unique circumstances for us all, and the energy industry wasn’t excluded. We expected an increase in residential demand from stay-at-home practices. Based on two years of energy usage data from about 3.8 million residential and nonresidential customers in Illinois, PNNL found that “long-term structural changes to the workplace like widespread teleworking could lead to 5-7% higher spring and summertime peak hourly loads occurring up to 2.5 hours earlier.” The paper references recent findings from smaller sample sets in other regions. Still, it brings up the question of how utilities in hotter climates might plan for this shift. Additionally, as we approach the winter heating season, what changes might we see in natural gas consumption and times of peak demand?
  4. SECC Rate Design: What do customers want and need? — This report consists of customer research to understand what customers want and need from utility rate design. Almost half (47%) of respondents said they were unsure of what rate they currently have, while conjoint analysis reveals that more than half of residential consumers would prefer some sort of time-varying alternative rate. Based on these findings, the report goes on to suggest seven takeaways for utilities when offering an alternative rate. A few of them are related to supporting customer education and delivering enabling technologies for targeted customer segments. The report doesn’t speak to specific utility programs. What utility have you seen offering the best approach to rate design for load management and customer engagement?
  5. AMI in Review Informing Conversation — This paper reviews AMI plans for 80 utilities that have been proposed since 2010. Of those filings, 26 were solely for AMI investments, 39 were for grid modernization or other bundled proposals and 15 were with rate cases. It also reviewed 60 utilities that either deployed AMI before 2010 or are not under the jurisdiction of regulatory commissions. The initial AMI business cases focused on operational savings, such as reduced truck rolls, however, that has evolved to consider more direct customer benefits. The report doesn’t take a position, but given the increasing importance of demand response and time-relevant load management to keep a reliable grid, should customer programs and rates be included in any AMI deployment?

As we look to the future, recent energy reports make it apparently clear that customer programs and rate design will help utilities manage the evolving challenges to deliver clean, affordable and reliable energy. Because 2020 has taught us important lessons about the value of innovative technologies and being open to new information in order to plan for whatever life throws our way next, understanding the key takeaways from these reports and leveraging advanced technologies like Copper’s wireless energy monitor will help utilities continue to deliver power to the homes, businesses and schools that need it most.