California’s Rolling Blackouts are Unnecessary

We can quickly build hundreds of megawatts of demand flexibility and eliminate the need for rolling blackouts --​ by *paying* people to network their appliances

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By
Cisco DeVries
-
August 18, 2020

Even as California increases its use of renewable energy, the state continues to rely heavily on dirty, expensive power plants to meet the demand for energy when it hits its peak in the early evening hours. As we’ve seen, when demand for electricity exceeds all supply, utilities can be forced to shed load by rotating neighborhoods through blackouts.

It doesn’t need to be this way. Over the past decade, OhmConnect has developed the remarkable technology -- and track record -- to network hundreds of thousands of appliances and devices in California homes to automatically “flex” when the electric grid is congested, dirty and expensive. ​We at OhmConnect already have 150,000 connected homes delivering more than 150 megawatts of power reduction in the State’s grid -- and have paid more than $13 million to California households for their participation.​ By expanding this effort, we can quickly build enough flexible capacity to avoid most rolling blackouts.

A single home’s impact might sound small, but the collective impact is enormous. With only non-financial support from the State, we can connect enough homes and appliances over the next year to build hundreds of megawatts -- or peak power “negawatts” -- as well as pay participating California families tens of millions of dollars per year.

California, to its credit, has led the nation in the installation of renewable energy to get us to 100% carbon-free power. Solar and wind have become the backbone of our energy supply. While they are now cheaper than burning fossil fuels, unfortunately they can’t generate power when the sun isn’t shining and the wind isn’t blowing. And on very high demand days, there sometimes isn’t enough power available to meet demand. That is what we are seeing right now.

Here is where our network of homes and appliances comes in.

OhmConnect supplies a wifi-enabled plug that easily connects a window air conditioner, refrigerator, or other appliance to our system. In the background, these appliances simply pause for 15 minutes at a time when the grid needs it -- and is willing to pay a lot for it. Most people don’t even realize it's happening. Simply by plugging their appliances into our smart plugs, a family can earn hundreds of dollars per year. The money is not from a subsidy or rebate; it comes from utilities and companies like OhmConnect that sell these collective savings in the wholesale energy market.

This same network of homes and appliances is also available to reduce demand during critical Flex Alerts and other grid emergencies.

Here is what we need:

It would not take much for this to be greatly expanded before next summer. While there are a number of longer term issues that should be addressed, there are two gating issues where we need engagement from the California Public Utilities Commission.

First, we need a straightforward and transparent process for CPUC approval of the capacity that we can provide to the grid at any one time. In particular, this would include a level of certainty on how our capacity (per user) is calculated so we can plan appropriately. Right now, it is a black box where no one knows even how the CPUC will calculate OhmConnect’s capacity -- making planning, contracting, financing and everything else very difficult. 

Second, we need the ability to add users to our total capacity on a regular basis. Remarkably, if OhmConnect adds a new user today, it can't get that user’s capacity for energy reduction added to any resource adequacy contracts until 2022. 

This is an important time for State leaders to commit to building the nimble system we need for a zero carbon grid. But unlike most of our climate and energy priorities, we can do this without taxpayer money and while helping residential energy customers. Let’s get to work.

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