Saturday, March 5, 2011

Post # 59 - Austin (Smart Grid) City Limits

The Pecan Street Project, a smart grid and clean energy research and development organization headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin, last month completed systems installation and has gone live with the first phase of its smart grid demonstration project in Austin’s Mueller community. The project seeks to expand and develop smart grid system's in the Texas capital though a customer-oriented approach that often has been missing in utility smart grid roll outs.

Pecan Street's board includes representatives from UT Austin, Austin Energy (the local utility, which already deployed 400,000 smart meters), the Environmental Defense Fund, the Austin Technology Incubator, the City of Austin and the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce. The new project itself has been deployed by Incenergy LLC, Austin-based Smart Grid software company.

Pecan Street's new home smart grid systems, which capture minute-to-minute energy usage for the whole home and six major appliances or systems, are deployed in 100 homes at Mueller, all of which are green built and 11 of which have rooftop solar PV systems (photovoltaics (PV) is a method of generating electrical power by converting solar radiation into direct current electricity).

This spring, Pecan Street Project will deploy Incenergy systems in a second group of 100 homes outside Mueller that are at least 10 years old. All participants in both groups are volunteers. The project achieved an installed cost per home of $341 ($241 for equipment plus $100 for installation).

During the 12-month first phase, project researchers will learn about how homeowners use electricity, gas and specific appliances during the course of the day. This will mark only the second publicly-reported research on the daily energy profiles of Sunbelt homes (the other is a 1999 University of Central Florida study) and the first to incorporate data on output from rooftop solar panels and on the homes’ energy efficiency attributes.

In Pecan Street's announcement for the the rollout, executive director Brewster McCracken noted:

The customer will have final say about whether the smart grid is a smart idea. The truth is that we – those working on and advocating for the smart grid – need to learn a lot more from customers than they need to learn from us. Before anyone starts prescribing solutions, we must develop a much better understanding of what customers value and how they’re using energy now.

Together with selected companies, project researchers will use the information gathered from these homes to structure next generation home smart grid systems. These systems, which selected companies will deploy in the project’s second phase (beginning March 2012), will provide customers with the ability to manage – even over mobile phones – individual appliances and systems as well as electric vehicle charging and rooftop PV systems.

The installation and testing of these next generation technologies will take place in a larger group of up to 1,000 residential and 75 commercial customers. As with the first phase, all participants will be volunteers. Pecan Street Project will issue a Request for Information on February 15, 2011 for companies to deploy home energy management systems and to supply electric vehicles, in-home charging and rooftop PV systems.

This looks like a promising project. And it can provide a real test of utilities' ability to integrate consumer preferences into the smart grid.

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