One of the best places to look for how smart-grid energy efficiency can be achieved on scale is Oklahoma. Yes, the land of abundant gas fracking and climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe has become a model for successful smart grid deployment.
The environmental stuff doesn’t matter, because customers of Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) in Oklahoma and western Arkansas are saving significant amounts on their electric bills, due to energy efficiency programs sponsored by the utility and powered by software from Silver Spring Networks.
Awareness Breeds Action
Under the myOGEpower program, the utility’s 790,000 customers, all of whom now have two-way communicating smart meters, can log into personalized, protected web sites that provide them with real-time energy usage information about their homes and businesses. And about 44,000 are enrolled in a SmartHours program that helps them save energy and money during peak rate times during the broiling summer months, when temperatures soar over 100 degrees for days or weeks.
The programs have also helped the utility save 72 magewatts of maximum demand reduction potential at system peak, as of Dec. 31, 2012.
MyOGEpower uses a cloud-based web platform powered by Silver Spring Networks’ CustomerIQ technology, enabling residents to get an overview of their electricity usage, see estimates of their monthly bill, compare and analyze monthly bills, chart daily or hourly use and see how they compare against averages. Customers can also track daily use based on variables like hourly temperatures, and a rate comparison tool allows them to see how other rate plans would work for them. Each week myOGEpower users receive an email summary, which helps remind them to check on their energy use.
The SmartHours program sets up variable rates during peak usage time in the summer, from 2 to 7 pm, ranging from 4 to 46 cents per kilowatt hour (kwh), depending on whether the peak period requires critical pricing. Users with a wireless, smart Energate thermostat can set back their air conditioning during those times to save, and on average homeowners saved $200 during the summer of 2012. Many in the program pre-cool their homes before the 2 to 7 pm peak pricing period, then turn back the thermostats or shut off the air conditioning during that time.
OG&E didn’t want to be cutting off power to people, so users opt-in instead. “They wanted to empower customers with technology,” says Brad Bogolea, Product Management, Demand Side Management of Silver Spring Networks.
During the pilot phases of the project, 98 percent of customers saved money over what they would have paid for electricity used if on the standard rate plan, and customers with smart thermostats achieved a maximum demand reduction of 57 percent during the peak period when compared to a control group.
On the highest priced days of variable peak pricing, those with the programmable communicating thermostats saved 33 percent, those with CustomerIQ (myOGEpower) saved 12 percent, and those with in-home displays saved 11 percent, while those with all three saved 28 percent.
How did OG&E do so well with these smart grid programs? First, says Bogolea, the utility saw the smart grid as a customer project, not just as an infrastructure project. It is up to the customers to opt in.
“The first step of energy management is increasing customer awareness of energy usage, how their behavior compares to other homes and occupants. Then really getting devices into play,” he says.
Software like CustomerIQ provides users with the awareness that gets them thinking of ways to save energy. The utility also pushed energy savings tips at users, such as unplugging devices to curtail vampire power.
“People are getting a lot smarter about energy and how to save,” says OG&E spokesperson Karen Kurtz. “We have some pretty savvy customers out there and checking myogepower to see how much energy they’re using.” And the message OG&E sees resonating with people is dollar savings.
The programs also provided good business value to OG&E, and customer satisfaction is at an all-time high, “It shows how this technology can really work to improve the utility-customer relationship,” says Bogolea. OG&E plans to roll put another 44,000 smart thermostats to its customers, says Kurtz.
Silver Spring Networks is also implementing CustomerIQ in Maui, Hawaii, with Maui Electric, in a program funded by the Department of Energy for comparison to other demonstration projects. The program features options for an in-home display, thermostat, solar PV meter and hot water load controller.