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Deep Dive Into OhmConnect’s Community Response During Summer 2020

Matt Duesterberg
January 13, 2021

This past summer, we asked a lot from the OhmConnect community, and our community stepped up. It was hard. There were days when we had to sit in front of a fan and the A/C was turned off during an #OhmHour. But we collectively worked to reduce electricity and keep the lights on for everyone. 

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What’s amazing is that some California regulators and policymakers are not stepping up and saying  “thank you for all that you have done”. Instead, some California regulators and policymakers are questioning whether or not our community has done anything at all -- a byproduct of a lack of understanding of what our community is intended to do. 

Where we are today is an inflection point. 

Do we double down and invest in the clean energy economy? Or do we revert back to procuring more fossil fuel power? And when I say “investment”, I don’t only mean money. That investment is in the time to understand that community conservation does not operate in the same way a coal or gas power plant operates - it’s exponentially more efficient. 

Over the past few years, our community has begun a movement in California to allow homes to respond to grid signals and get paid for it. It has been successful but we can do more. We need to instill changes that properly account for the types of savings we provide. 

I’ll provide one example. (Bear with me, it gets a bit complicated.)

A look at OhmHour performance on 2020’s hottest day

Let’s take August 14th, 2020, when rolling blackouts occurred across the state of California. On that day, temperatures soared across the Western US. Our community, and specifically users in the East Bay, used more electricity than they usually do. 

The image below shows two lines: 1) the grey dotted line shows the average energy usage of the prior week in August and 2) the blue solid line shows the energy usage on August 14th. As you can see, the energy usage on August 14th (blue) was higher than previous days (grey). Energy usage crept upwards from noon until 5pm for our customers steadily before the #OhmHour started. Then, once the #OhmHour began, we saw a decrease in average energy usage. Specifically, at 5pm, on average, East Bay homes were using 1.8 kWs of electricity and at 6pm, that dropped to 1.6 kWs of electricity. Notably, the average energy usage in the prior week continued to increase during that time. 

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After the event was over at 8pm, energy usage increased again as we saw an increase from 1.6 kWs back to 1.7 kWs. This change shows that our customers reduced an estimated amount of ~0.25 kW per user, on average, which is in line with the results that Recurve showed in their recent independent report here

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Now here’s where it gets interesting. 

Estimations from CAISO a far cry from reality

The baseline, as defined by the California ISO, is not actually designed to account for such extreme weather events, and calculated that a user would have used, at 5pm, 1.3 kWs (even though, if you remember, the usage was actually 1.8 kWs). In fact, the CAISO baseline showed, that despite a drop in usage, OhmConnect users actually used more electricity during the #OhmHour than they would have used if an OhmHour did not occur. OhmConnect, as a result, had to buy back power from the energy markets due to the shortfall. (Want to dig deeper into this? Our CEO discussed this just yesterday in a tweet thread here.)

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This is wrong -- and it needs to be fixed. The discrepancy we are seeing is due to archaic rules that don’t consider what actually happens during extreme weather events. 

So how do we fix this? 

A lot of work is still to be done, but first, we need to approach residential energy flexibility with an attitude of curiosity and quickly resolve the problems that we face. Our CEO sent a letter to the joint energy agencies surfacing these issues, and we ask you as partners and users of OhmConnect to bring this to the forefront by retweeting it here.

Let’s bring a level playing field to the energy sector and allow us, as individuals, to participate fairly and equitably. 

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