Portland General Electric launches test pilot addressing customers’ energy use

Published on July 30, 2019 by Daily Energy Insider Reports

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Portland General Electric (PGE) has launched a test pilot program aimed at encouraging customers to be more proactive in monitoring their energy consumption and cultivating good energy use habits.

The Smart Grid Test Bed, which integrates smart grid technology with the consumption habits of customers, will take place in three neighborhoods in Oregon. More than 20,000 customers are located within the three neighborhoods of the test bed. The mix consists of more than 19,000 residential meters and 1,200 distinct businesses, according to PGE spokesperson Melanie Erdmann.

As part of the test pilot, residential customers will be given incentives for using smart-home technologies as well as rebates for shifting their energy use during off-peak times, or times when temperatures are not too hot or cold. Residents will not need special equipment to participate, but customers not already enrolled in PGE’s Smart Thermostat program were opted into the peak time rebates program.

Commercial customers, meanwhile, will have the option of enrolling in PGE’s Energy Partner Smart Thermostat program, which offers free thermostats and installation to qualifying businesses. The program will also give payments for businesses participating in load-control events.

Other potential energy-saving opportunities that could come out of the test bed pilot program include incentives for customers using rooftop solar or smart devices such as thermostats, water heaters and electric vehicle chargers and batteries.

PGE automatically enrolled its customers residing in the three neighborhoods, and the power company hopes for a participation rate of at least 66 percent, the company said on July 15.

“We’re using our Smart Grid Grid Test Bed to deliver simple, seamless solutions and working with customers to drive carbon out of our system. We’re determined to meet our shared climate and equity goals,” said Maria Pope, chief executive officer of PGE, in a written statement.

In preparation for the test pilot, PGE worked with sustainability consultancy firm Rocky Mountain Institute and an advisory panel to develop the program. PGE will also utilize the advanced communications capabilities and distribution system upgrades in three Oregon cities: Hillsboro, Portland and Milwaukie. The substations there have smart grid technologies installed, such as remote controls to increase system reliability.

To encourage customer participation, PGE took several tactics. Each customer within the test bed received mailers about the program, and PGE has engaged in media and community outreach efforts to help customers learn about the program, according to Erdmann.

PGE also hired outreach specialists to attend community events to educate customers about their energy consumption and use options, and it created an ambassador program that encourages PGE employees to share their experience with neighbors, Erdmann said.

Broader clean energy goals
Since the program just kicked off, feedback is not yet available. But PGE hopes to get feedback on issues such as how to structure programs that best fit varying customer needs; how to automate programs so that they’re most convenient for customers; what types of partnerships should PGE pursue; and what messaging and concepts most engage customers and help them understand demand response concepts.

The test pilot is the first phase of a multi-year program. In the first phase, which will last two and a half years, PGE is looking at demand response. PGE is planning a second phase which will look at distributed energy resources. PGE hasn’t disclosed any specific figures on the costs of the pilot or what financial benefits could arise from the project, but a long-term goal is to replace the need for a new power plant because of the effective management of demand-side resources. PGE ultimately plans to take what it has learned across its service area and share its findings with the greater utilities industry.

“With a successful pilot, PGE will have access to a new demand-side resource capable of replacing the need for a new power plant. We’ll learn how to increase flexible loads that are essential to decarbonizing the grid while increasing renewable energy usage without compromising the grid’s safety, reliability or resilience,” PGE said.

The company continued, “Through the test bed, we’re conducting extensive outreach with customers to understand how best to partner with them – including how to structure programs that better fit their needs, how to automate programs so they are convenient, and how to work with partners to offer more comprehensive solutions. We see the test bed as an investment to accelerate the pilot-to-program cycle.”

The launch of the test pilot comes as PGE also submitted a new integrated resource plan to the Oregon Public Utility Commission for approval, according to a July 22 release. The plan seeks to add more renewable power, increase energy efficiency and partner with customers to balance energy consumption during peak demand periods.

PGE identified actions that the company could take between now and 2025, including adding an average 150 MW of renewable resources by 2023; reaching an average 157 MW in energy efficiency; and increasing its reliance on demand response so that PGE can reach savings goals of 141 MW in the winter months, 211 MW in the summer months and 4 MW of customer battery storage.

The company also reiterated its plans to cease coal-fired operations at the Boardman generating station by the end of 2020.
PGE submitted the plan on July 19. From there, commissioners will engage in a public review of the plan, and PGE anticipates that a decision could come by the first quarter of 2020.

If the commission approves the plan, then PGE will conduct a request for proposals for new renewable resources, implement energy efficiency and demand response programs and seek opportunities for bilateral negotiations with existing generators in the region to meet resource capacity needs, the company said. If PGE can’t meet resource capacity needs through the negotiations, it will consult with the commission and potentially conduct a second request for proposals for non-emitting energy resources, the company said.