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Welcome New Expert Interview Series: Derek Kirchner, Director of Demand Response at Consumers Energy and New Expert in the Load Management Community

Energy Central

The network of experts who are among the contributors and readers of Energy Central are one of the most valuable aspects of being a part of this community, as they have graciously made themselves available to answer questions about their corner of the power industry, contribute their insights to the hot topics of discussions on the platform, and more. As a way to introduce these experts to you on a more personal level, Energy Central started last week our ‘Welcome New Expert Interview Series,’ which started with a discussion with Gary Hilberg, President of Continuum Energy and newly appointed expert in Energy Central’s Energy Efficiency Community.

This week we continue that new expert interview series, this time with the most recently appointed expert of the Load Management Community, Derek Kirchner. As you’ll read, Derek is the Director of Demand Response at Consumers Energy, but that’s just part of his story that’s led to him being an industry leading voice in the utility area of load management, energy shifting, and similar strategies. Derek is new to the Energy Central community as of the beginning of August, but his experience in the sector runs deep.

Read the following Q&A I did with Derek to get to know him better, and when you have questions or need some insight into an aspect of the world of load management, look for him on and around the Energy Central community.

Matt Chester: First off, thanks so much for becoming an official expert in our Load Management Community! So the members of this group can get to know you better and understand how you’ll elevate the community with your experience, can you give a quick overview of your background and the roles you’ve had in your career that have led to you being so knowledgeable and experienced in the utility sector and in the idea of load management in particular?

Derek Kirchner: I began my career with DTE Electric Company in 1999 as part of the company’s Professional Opportunity Program. Over the years, I held a number of positions with increasing leadership responsibilities in areas that included Residential and Small Business Marketing, Major Account Services, Integrated Resource Planning, Generation Optimization, and Business Planning and Development. In April 2019, I left DTE and accepted the position of Director of Demand Response, Commercial and Industrial Products, with Consumers Energy.

While those are a lot of titles, they translate into my management of a portfolio of demand response (DR) products and services for DTE from 2004 through 2018 and now the same for Consumers on the commercial and industrial (C+I) side. 

 

MC: How have you seen the treatment of load management by utilities change in recent years? What sort of priority was it given 10 years ago and how does that differ with today? How do you anticipate that focus continuing to evolve moving forward?

DK: There has been a fundamental change in the way in which utilities approach Load Management. Traditional DR 1.0 resources of one-way switches and load control phone calls, while still valuable as resources, are beginning to transition to DR 2.0 and DR 3.0 assets that can be deployed through two-way communication and soon fully automated and available 24/7.  Traditional utility load management used to look only at the peak hours of a system and mostly as an emergency resource to be called only in the tightest of markets. Today, utility load management needs to be operational, meaning available to be used on an hourly basis, as the reserve margins in generation markets contract through retirement of coal plants and the intermittent operational characteristics of renewable resources require needed flexibility. The focus of load management moving forward will be on how to integrate this into utility operations and start to meet the prosumer-- those customers that have generation, storage, or want to participate in a DR program-- how, where, and when they want to be served.

MC: When evaluating new technologies or utility programs specific to load management, what in your view is a sign of something that is likely to be successful towards those goals? Are there common traits of success or failure you’re able to identify?

DK: The biggest sign of load management success is a program in which the customer does not notice the impact to their service and ultimately does not have to be actively involved in. The “set-it and forget it” model.  Some of the more successful load management programs have been the traditional Air Conditioning Cycling programs where AC compressors are turned off and on in 15-minute cycles. These programs usually run without any knowledge of the customer, as they do not impact their comfort on convenience, it just appears as a long duty cycle of the compressor.  It really is being able to manage the impact to the customer, as successful programs do not have full interruption of service anymore.

 

MC: Are there any common misconceptions in the load management world, or even just technologies or strategies that are misunderstood, that you wish you could clear up for people all at once?

DK: As I already mentioned, it does not have to be an all or nothing approach. With the advent of advanced metering, the work on the utility side of measurement and verification of performance is so much easier than it used to be.  On the customer side of the equation, building management systems for C+I and connected thermostats for residential customers have been game changers in the ability of customers to participate without reliance on the “sneaker-net” technology of running around and hitting a light switch.  We have the technology available to engage customers in smaller chunks, with less impact and higher satisfaction while keeping load management performance.

MC: Regarding Energy Central, what interested you about this community and compelled you to dedicate your time and knowledge to being an expert for the Load Management Community? How do you hope to leverage the network and the platform for the better?

DK: I am an energy guy and a utility guy through and through.  Any time I can have conversations on the approach a utility can take on how to engage their customers to keep costs down and have a positive impact on both a customer and a utilities bottom line, I am in.  I love this industry and have taken a look around, seeing the people that brought me up in this space retire, and realize that I am now (begrudgingly) the older or at least more experienced guy in the room.  I really want to be able to impact the next generation of load management practitioners.  I want to give back and provide my expertise in working through a lot of the fits and starts of the industry.  No need to recreate the wheel and I can tell you where most of the bodies are buried in terms of bad decisions or program design.  No need for anyone else to have the “learning opportunities” I had to go through on my own.  If you have a question, ask.  Odds are I have thought about it or worked through it.  While our regulatory constructs may be different throughout the industry, the approach to building the cases is consistent.

 

MC: Is there anything else you’d like the community to know?

DK: If we ever cross paths, stop me and say hello.  I love this industry and the space and can’t imagine doing anything else.  I can talk load management and the utility industry all day long, but you’d be surprised how many outside of our industry find it boring!  Anytime I can find a sympathetic ear, lets chat.

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Thanks so much to Derek for taking the time to share in this Q&A for the Energy Central community to get to know him better, and even more so for dedicating his time as one of our newest experts! Like he said, if you see him around (either in person at a conference or across Energy Central) then be sure to say hello, bend his ear, and take advantage of the wealth of resources he and the other Energy Central experts can provide.

As mentioned earlier, the other expert interviews that we’ve completed in this series can be read here, and if you are interesting in becoming an expert then you can reach out to me or you can apply here.

Discussions

Audra Drazga's picture
Audra Drazga on Sep 3, 2019 3:55 pm GMT

Derek,

Welcome to the community!  I am looking foward to working with you! 

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