How to Engage CA’s Biggest Savers in Flex Alerts

The OhmConnect community delivered reductions on the Flex Alert despite not being incentivized to do so; unfortunately, many of our best users were forced to sit out

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By
Matt Duesterberg
-
August 23, 2022

On August 17th, a modestly hot day in California, with temperatures reaching 105 degrees in the Central Valley, the California energy market operator (CAISO) issued the summer’s first Flex Alert to encourage electricity consumers to reduce their energy use from 4:00-9:00 pm.

The good news: the lights stayed on. The bad news: some of the state’s best energy savers were left on the sidelines.

Under the state’s new Emergency Load Reduction Program (ELRP), millions of electricity customers throughout the state were paid to save energy during the Flex Alert. One ELRP player that has gotten a lot of media attention is the Tesla-PG&E virtual power plant program, which reportedly reduced grid strain by sending ~20 MWs of instantaneous battery power back to the grid.

So far so good – so who was left on the sidelines?

OhmConnect has 200,000 members in California that save energy day in and day out in response to grid signals. You could even say that our purpose in life is to save energy when the grid is stressed in order to prevent Flex Alerts. Since July, our members have saved more than 400 MWhs across dozens of events. They’re consistent and reliable.

But we weren’t allowed to join the ELRP, which is managed by the investor owned utilities and paid for by ratepayers. Because we are not in the ELRP, we can only receive in-market payments which paid $219/MWh on August 17th – instead of the $2000/MWh paid out to ELRP. In spite of that fact, we dispatched 25% of our users that day to help mitigate strain on the grid. During the Flex Alert, a quarter of OhmConnect users reduced over 30 MWhs of energy.

But 75% of our users stayed on the sidelines because we weren’t dispatched into the market. These are people who are used to saving energy regularly – and had achieved similar savings 8 times in the 15 days leading up to August 17th. Many are low to moderate income consumers, who have learned how to dial their thermostat up during a heat wave, and have connected their fridge to a smart plug to power down when called upon.

Our potential is even bigger. Across our hundreds of thousands of members, we have nearly ~700MWs of baseline, of which ~550MWs are “market enrolled”. On a major event day, like we have had in August 2020, our members could reduce up to 224 MWs, but on a day to day basis, the average reduction is closer to 96 MWs.

As a market integrated program, the energy operator (i.e. the California ISO) dispatches us and knows how many MWs of savings we and our members will deliver. By dispatching day in and day out, OhmConnect members have demonstrated reductions that dwarf the Flex Alert events (>400 MWhs in just the past 50 days) and demonstrating those reductions reliably (99% deliverability against our dispatched MWh).

It’s August, and we’re sure to have another heat wave – and additional Flex Alerts – in the coming weeks. It’s about time we expanded the ELRP to make sure that we can put our best players on the field.

1 Using the best 2 hour performance from each of our individual members in the month of August 2022

2 Using the average of 20 hours of each of our individual members from June 1, 2022 to August 17, 2022

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