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Broadcast-based Energy Management

Power Grid Critical to Support Electricity Demand


The Smart Grid Interoperability Panel's (SGIP) Home-to-Grid Domain Expert Working Group (H2G DEWG) has developed a white paper entitled Broadcast-based H2G Communication Solutions. The H2G DEWG chair, Ken Wacks, explained that the development of this paper was motivated by a request from regulators and appliance makers for a simple method to deliver energy management data from a power utility or energy service provider to consumer products. These data may include electricity prices or event notices about energy shortages. The data transmission method uses an FM subchannel available to all FM radio stations. Digital data are broadcast to special receivers that may be embedded in appliances or in an energy management controller. There are provisions for authenticating that the data originated from the utility to ensure cyber security. The use of FM broadcasting provides universal real-time coverage throughout the country with messages that can be tailored to each geographic region.

The following smart applications are enhanced by the fast response time and full market coverage enabled by FM broadcast communications:

  • - Demand response
  • - Frequency regulation
  • - Integration of renewable generation
  • - Dynamic pricing schemes

Benefits of Broadcast Communications

Power utilities may significantly reduce operating costs and increase grid reliability if appropriate pricing signals or event notices are sent to assist the balancing of power supply and demand. By sending regional prices to energy-consuming devices in the home, it is possible to leverage and optimize the inherent energy storage and/or ability of appliances to modify consumption (with user cooperation) in real-time.

Feedback or confirmation of load-shed characteristics can be obtained by data mining at the feeder or substation level. These data are inherently aggregated so end-user privacy is maintained. The benefit of this approach is potentially influencing a greater volume of loads more quickly and cost effectively than any current alternative.

The broadcast method can potentially address some of the problems users may have with localized two-way transmitters, such as a lack of signal coverage in multiple occupancy homes or small businesses. The broadcast solution can be complementary to optional home energy management or networking systems by providing an independent live input to the local network.

Broadcast communications is an economical method for reaching large numbers of end devices in the residential and small commercial markets. Energy management in these markets is becoming increasingly important since the growth of wind and solar resources in the supply-side mix has added significant complexity to load/resource balancing requirements. New control methods with loads such as electric vehicles or existing loads with inherent energy storage such as water heaters on the demand-side creates opportunities for simple low cost control optimization solutions.

Radio Broadcasting

FM radio broadcasters are authorized to carry digital data in addition to audio using the Radio Data System (RDS). Consumers use RDS for station, song, and artist displays on car radios. There is excess capacity in the RDS channel that station owners can rent. RDS distribution offers the benefit that the market coverage of an FM station is typically well matched to the service area of electric utilities in that market. RDS broadcast costs are shared with the primary business application of audio broadcast.

FM broadcasting offers considerable value for demand response applications with ubiquitous deployment, good building penetration, robust reliability, and low delivery and consumer-equipment cost. The infrastructure already exists as "low hanging fruit" - reducing time to implementation as well as overall capital expenditures. It also eliminates otherwise needed environmental assessments, reviews, and regulatory impact studies. Furthermore, broadcast solutions utilize the existing FM radio infrastructure while preserving customer privacy, without introducing new local radio frequency emissions.
FM broadcasting enables smart appliances by providing them with real time price information, vastly improving the efficiency of the way that an appliance buys the power it needs to serve the consumer. In addition to communicating price and event notices to appliances, a simple message display terminal can be addressed by utilities to alert and advise consumers regarding energy usage during critical periods and to provide an alternative messaging channel for other important information.

The smart grid is a complex system of electric supply and demand with increasing market penetration of renewable and bi-directional microgrids. It is therefore logical to assume that a myriad of communication solutions needs to be developed to accommodate this complexity. One of the key characteristics of broadcasting is the ability to expand without limiting the number of simultaneous listener devices. This alone is a strong case for the consideration of broadcasting as a primary tool for Smart Grid home-to-grid communication solutions. Other important traits of broadcasting include end-user privacy preservation and the ability of the broadcast system to complement Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) and Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) networks.

Applications of broadcast communications

Automated Demand Response

Most devices that use electricity either have thermal inertia (e.g., heating, cooling, water heating, and refrigeration) or potential flexibility as to when they take power from the grid (e.g., industrial pumping loads and batch processes, pool pumps, dishwashers, clothes dryers, and charging of electric vehicles and battery powered devices). While many of these end-use devices have built-in intelligent controls, they lack information about when it would be most economical to use power from the grid.

An inexpensive, standards-based approach for communicating present and near-term energy prices could rapidly lead to the deployment of millions of devices that would automatically and continually adjust the timing of their electricity use in response to grid conditions without materially impacting the consumer's experience. In the aggregate, such devices could provide a flexible resource. This response could help compensate for the output variation in large, renewable resources, improve utility asset utilization and lower costs, enhance reliability, facilitate demand response, and remove a key barrier to efficient retail pricing.

Home Energy Management System

A Home Energy Management System (HEMS) may be deployed as an agent for coordinating appliance energy consumption. An HEMS energy management controller may contain the FM RDS receiver. The real time pricing and other information received via broadcast signals can then be shared with the connected devices. The H2G DEWG developed a specification for an interface between an appliance and a home network that may be part of an HEMS. This interface is now an American National Standard called Modular Communications Interface for Energy Management (ANSI/CEA-2045).

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) mandate

Broadcast communications could help FERC to fulfill a legal mandate from the Energy Policy Act of 2005 to "provide for the dissemination, on a timely basis, of information about the availability and prices of wholesale electric energy and transmission service to . the public." Thus, data about when it would be economical to use electricity should be available to any device, anywhere, at all times, as inexpensively as possible, and with little or no change in consumer behavior required. Broadcast communications are relatively low cost to deploy.

Transactive Energy

Transactive Energy is an automated strategy for balancing the supply and demand for electricity under development by the GridWiser Architecture Council. In a Transactive Energy environment, power-producing devices from utilities and from customers with local power generating capacity may offer excess power to the grid via a market bid-and-ask mechanism. The device or an aggregate of devices would propose power at a specified level and time, which could be a few minutes or hours later. Loads on the grid bid for this power, a price is agreed, and the power is delivered when promised to settle the trade. The price and power data are exchanged among the devices via a network using machine-to-machine (M2M) communications. The broadcast mechanism can be a very useful tool for facilitating the Transactive Energy concept, especially if grid-specific information can be attached for optimizing feeder and substation capacity issues.

Winners with broadcast communications

The innovative use of FM broadcast RDS for utility load management in smart grids represents a win-win situation, wherein utilities can rebalance electrical loads with low cost optimization strategies and broadcasters can collect new non-traditional revenues by providing valuable energy management services to their communities. FM broadcasters have shown support for this utility endeavor and can provide additional value to the utilities by offering on-air timely public awareness of Smart Grid campaigns along with extraordinary grid service conditions and advisories to the local communities they currently serve.

Kenneth Wacks, Ph.D.'s picture

Thank Kenneth for the Post!

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Bob Amorosi's picture
Bob Amorosi on Feb 25, 2014 7:00 pm GMT
I agree that the use of FM radio RDS communication would have many benefits and probably be far less costly for utility companies to implement than any alternatives.

A very similar approach is used already by many utility companies in Canada to implement demand responses with communicating thermostats in residential customers' homes. The existing radio system they took advantage of is the old pocket-pager radio system. In Ontario this demand response program is called the Peak Saver project, where a residential customer willing to participate is given a free communicating thermostat and its free installation to replace their old thermostat. However these communicating thermostats do not respond to any sort of energy pricing signal, it is entirely load shedding signals controlled and sent by the utility.

Even though the provincial government of Ontario funds the Peak Saver program through direct subsidies to the utility companies, our utility companies were only willing to implement the program if there was some level of guaranteed demand responses i.e. loads shed, under the utility’s control. Utility companies are not generally interested in participating in such programs if they must depend on a customer’s control of the demand responses, e.g. using energy pricing signals, because there is no guarantee there will be enough responses in a peak demand period.

The Peak Saver program in Ontario has been somewhat successful with tens of thousands of residential customers having signed up to it over the last several years, out of a total of 5 million or so customers. A barrier to more penetration is that many consumers are not willing to have big brother control their private living environment in their homes. So to make the program in Ontario more attractive to consumers, the government recently added more funding to offer a free in-home energy display with the thermostats.

One big drawback of using an FM radio RDS broadcast system is that it is only one-way communication to consumers’ home energy management systems. If the system were two-way communications, the home equipment could send a message back to utility companies reporting a demand response when it is applied by the equipment, and the utility company in turn could determine if enough demand responses have been applied or not. If not, they could entice more responses with further price dropping signals.

A two-way communications system as such is not rocket science to implement. Indeed most utility companies now have two-way radios at their disposal with automated metering infrastructure, i.e. the smart meters and their radio networks. Two-way communications is already possible through these networks and designs exist for home energy management systems to communicate with smart meters. But utility companies are unwilling to bear the huge cost of implementing and just simply being involved commercially with consumer home energy management systems behind the meter.

Bob in Ontario Canada

Bob Amorosi's picture
Bob Amorosi on Feb 25, 2014 7:00 pm GMT
correction in my second last paragraph above .... "could entice more responses with further price INCREASE signals"

A progressive extension of a two-way communication system between a utility company and a customer's home energy management system would be real-time energy marketing to individual customers, such as described in Len Gould's article IMEUC system on this website.

Duff Roman's picture
Duff Roman on Mar 12, 2014 6:00 pm GMT
Further to Bob from Ontario’s comments, the current Utility demand response programs have been limited in market penetration. This due to consumer /end user’s concern in ceding control over the use of user setting for devices in the home.

The main point from Dr. Ken Wack’s article is the new paradigm of consumer centric Broadcasts is seen more as a service to the consumer vs. the utility, even though both benefits. The key difference is the preservation of privacy while allowing for the end user to have full control over their devices including override or user settings that ignore external advice. The freedom of choice, the protection of individual privacy and the ease of installation are characteristics that will finally enable the smart grid to gain mass connectivity into household devices where previous attempts have failed..

On the issue of FM radio RDS broadcast system is a drawback as it provides only one-way communication to consumers’ home energy management systems. Not true, the utilities themselves have the necessary feedback or confirmation of load-shed characteristics for demand response which is obtained by data mining at the feeder or substation level. The benefit of this approach is potentially influencing a greater volume of loads more quickly and cost effectively than any current alternative. Again, this broadcast approach uses grid data are inherently aggregated so end-user privacy is maintained.

Yours truly,

D. Roman Oakville Ontario

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