For most of the year, the power grid has more than enough capacity to meet demand. It’s actually oversized to meet peak demand days. These are typically summer days when outdoor temperatures are at their highest causing air conditioning loads to soar. Depending on where you’re reading this from, it may be hard to believe, but while the Northeast United States freezes and won’t have to worry about this for another half year —it’s been a different story here in Australia.
Southern and eastern Australia has just started to come out of a brutal heat wave that has had temperatures as high as 47°C or 117°F. To combat the heat, people are cranking up their air conditioning creating an extreme peak in demand where at times the grid hasn’t been able to keep up, resulting in a looming threat of power shortages. Struggling to meet the demand for cooling, the price of energy has inflated to A$14,000 per megawatt-hour (MWh). At one point, Don Harwin, the New South Wales energy minister, issued a statement requesting households and businesses to curtail energy use.
These record high temperatures have prompted many to question how to prepare the grid for the future, especially as wind and solar resources, which are intermittent in nature, are replacing coal-fired power plants more and more. This heat wave has highlighted the danger of peak demand and the need to create a dynamic power grid of networked infrastructure.
Instead of creating more utility generation and infrastructure to combat a future heat wave —the cost of which would be passed along to citizens— it’s time to get more intelligent about how energy is used. BuildingIQ’s platform and Predictive Energy Optimization (PEO) utilizes weather forecasts, building characteristics, occupant comfort, building characteristics and the price of energy to create a 24-hour game plan on how to best optimize energy use. Widespread adoption of this solution among commercial buildings would free up utility generation and resilience to the grid. The platform also opens the door for Automated DR —the high tech equivalent of what the New South Wales’ energy minister is asking for to use less energy.
BuildingIQ’s platform has the ability to create two-way communication between a utility and its customers. When peak demand days are identified —such as the ones that have been regularly occurring in Australia— the Automated DR capabilities kick in and BuildingIQ will precool a building. The structure’s thermal properties are leveraged to essentially store cooling prior to the grid reaching peak demand hours. This will let the building coast through the period when the utility is nearing full capacity, which happens to be when energy prices are also at their highest. Since comfort is factored into the advanced model that the platform creates, occupants won’t even realize that this practice is occurring. If a utility were able to call upon dozens of large commercial buildings to do this, it’d be a game changer.
However, the infrastructure that intelligent energy management platforms afford is valuable beyond heat wave conditions. The intermittency that renewable energy resources experience can be addressed through a dynamic grid as well. As the utility’s role continues to evolve, the need to shape consumption to generation will be vital. But, for now, I hope we will stay safe here in Australia.