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Engaging Residential Customers with Demand Response on 15 Minutes’ Notice: Exclusive Interview with Carlos Lopez of London Hydro

Carlos Lopez

Utilities are getting increasingly creative with and focused on developing demand response programs for their customers that allow for grid flexibility, energy savings, and for customers reduced bills. As load management continues to be a hot industry topic, the Peak Load Management Alliance (PLMA) has continued in its leadership in bringing experts and decision-makers in energy companies together to cooperate and share on best practices in this rapidly progressing field. This open and collaborative environment will continue at the upcoming 40th PLMA Conference, and one such expert who will be sharing with his colleagues is Carlos Lopez of London Hydro.

Carlos will be speaking to load management and grid professionals through his presentation entitled “Quick-Ramp, Customer Engagement: Price-Motivated Residential DR with 15 Minutes’ Notice,” sharing lessons learned and challenges that still lay ahead for this type of rapid engagement to get customers to participate and save without much notice. As any utility professional working with customer programs will tell you, having the technology and the program is just one small part of the battle, but encouraging customer participation is a whole different (but entirely critical) challenge.

As Carlos prepares to open a dialogue on the successes he’s found in this regard, he was gracious enough to give a sneak preview to Energy Central’s readers via this interview:

Matt Chester: Thanks for sharing a sneak peek at what you’re going to be sharing at the 40th PLMA Conference. Before diving into this topic, can you first provide a bit of background on yourself and how you got involved in the world of load management?

Carlos Lopez: As an IT professional I have been working for more than 15 years in Information Technology projects in several industries and the last 6 years specifically in the utilities sector.  As a Product Manager at London Hydro, I am responsible for the development, expansion, enhancement, management, and support of the portfolio of residential and commercial energy management systems such as the Green Button (GB) platform and applications.  I got involved in this exciting pilot project with London Hydro in 2018 and it has been an incredible journey.

 

MC: You’re going to be sharing the lessons learned from London Hydro’s RPP Pilot; can you briefly describe what this pilot program looked like and what inspiration or road map you followed. What parts of the program are new and innovative in the industry and where did you lean on the successful implementations from other organizations?

CL: In partnership with the Ontario Energy Board (OEB), London Hydro was the first Local Distribution Company (LDC) to implement a customer engagement program that combines quick ramp-up critical peak demand response events and ‘behind-the-meter’ energy management tools, powered by Green Button, that help customers understand energy impacts in real-time. The main driver of the program was customer engagement.

As part of this project, London Hydro developed the Trickl mobile app with a goal to upgrade existing customer engagement to a real-time, personalized level. Trickl consolidates in-home device control and real-time energy monitoring, energy efficiency advice, and demand response in one single application.

This program was implemented in May of 2018 for approximately 1,600 participants who were divided into three observation groups. The first group focused on an impact and behavioral deviations study of digitally engaged customers in relation to the availability of real-time energy consumption information. For the second and third groups, we combined the real-time and demand response capabilities with the aim of determining whether a pricing incentive consisting of a short duration, quick-ramping Critical Peak Price, in combination with a discounted off-peak rate, provides sufficient motivation for customers to agree to short duration automated load control activities.

Our preliminary program performance showed positive results. Over 85% of participating customers participated in the automated demand response events with an average of four event overrides (customers choosing not to have an automated load reduction performed) per event.

The Interim report, prepared by Navigant, illustrates great customer engagement; 5% on-peak energy savings and 3% mid-peak energy savings were achieved by the customers in the summer period (first six months of the program). We are currently working on the final program assessment, which will supplement the existing results with the winter period data analysis.  Furthermore, we are delivering app enhancements by introducing water and natural gas elements with a goal to create one unified utility customer engagement experience.  It was definitely a successful implementation, a team effort with the participation of OEB, London Hydro, and technology vendors and partners.

The key innovative elements the project incorporates are:

  • Open Standards: Green Button/OpenADR
  • Behind the meter IoT integration for Real-Time energy data
  • Customer Engagement and Literacy
  • New Electricity Rate Design Test
  • Short Notice Demand Response Events
  • Cloud Computing: AWS/Google
  • Development Platforms: Android/iOS Mobile Apps
  • EM&V study

MC: What were the largest takeaways from the pilot program? Was there anything particularly unexpected that you’ll be looking to address before moving into the next stage?

CL: The customer engagement strategy was a key part of the project and a lesson learned for future similar pilot projects.  Through different customer outreach events and tools, such as focus groups, open houses, online surveys, door to door campaigns, breakfast events, family events with educational activities, and more, we were able to communicate pilot goals to customers and keep them engaged not only during the pilot but also after the pilot ended.

On the technical side, the connectivity between IoT devices was a challenge as we explained in the sneak peek, especially under scenarios that were dependent on customer’s actions and couldn’t be resolved remotely by the technical support team.  We did overcome this challenge by emphasizing communication through different channels, such as SMS, email, In-App notifications, and IVR messaging, and educating customers on energy savings tips and actions to be taken even when technology didn’t respond automatically as expected.

 

MC: You note how important customer behavior was to the success of the program, and in particular the great customer engagement you did before and during the program launch. Did you see any particular trends between the type of customers and how they responded, whether that’s based on demographics, particular traits/characteristics, types of questions they asked at the beginning, etc.?

CL: As requested by the OEB, the selection of pilot participants didn’t target specific demographics or customer profile, instead we had a mix of customers, randomly selected.  We didn’t observe specific trends based on the type of customers or any other criteria and our surveys results show behavioral changes and engagement through all the participant groups.

 

MC: Outside of presenting your findings, are there other topics of discussion or expected presentations that you’re particularly excited about at the 40th PLMA conference as an attendee?

CL: Being part of the PLMA Conference is an exciting opportunity not just to share our experiences and lessons learned during our pilot but also an excellent time to meet with other utility peers and see what they are doing in regards to load management technologies. I am particularly interested in learning more about new trends in transactional DR and the use of machine learning to implement advanced DR programs.

 

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If you’re interested in hearing more about the insights into customer engagement for demand response that Carlos will be discussing, be sure to find him at the 40th PLMA Conference taking place in St. Petersburg, Florida, from November 4 to 6. You can check out the agenda and register for the conference here.

Matt Chester's picture

Thank Matt for the Post!

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