From Bea Wray

Conserving energy has a one-two punch, a two-step plan, or two sides to the same coin. Whatever analogy you prefer, it is important to learn that the spectrum of energy conservation includes energy efficiency as well as demand response. What is the difference?

Energy efficiency is the main focus of many of the energy audits we see. Here people are updating and replacing as they transition to LED lighting, high efficiency appliances, and more secure air with better insulation, windows, etc.

Demand Response is an important concept related to electric energy and it is especially exciting to me as it is propelling some innovative companies and creative solutions.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission says demand response (DR) is “Changes in electric usage by end-use customers from their normal consumption patterns in response to changes in the price of electricity over time or to incentive payments designed to induce lower electricity use at times of high wholesale market prices or when system reliability is jeopardized.”

Because electricity energy is not easily stored, shifting our behavior and time of use can be a powerful conservation tool and demand response can direct these habits.

Some innovations around demand response include smart thermostats that can cycle on and off even without the consumer knowing. Consumers can even give control to the utility company for optimum utilization. One challenge here is getting people (especially teens) to stop touching the controls. Nest is an innovative company (now owned by Google). The Nest Learning Thermostat and EchoBee4 are specifically designed to save energy by turning the thermostat down when no one is home, allowing you to control it from anywhere, remoting providing temperature sensing, and allowing for room by room temperature management.

Smart speakers like Alexa are “learning” to analyze utility usage and be able to “coach” consumers on why their bill is so high. This is especially important for seniors who are on a fixed income and might not be interested or computer savvy enough to do the online research. Also, online research would tend to be general rather than specific to a certain user’s home. What is great about the smart speakers is that the consumer can just ask the question, “Hey Alexa, why was my energy bill so high this month?” For the more connected home the consumer cannot only learn what appliances, etc. are most costly but also how that specifically plays out in their own home. Ideally, the user will get feedback like that if they had run the dryer one or two hours later, the impact would have saved so many dollars by not utilizing energy at the peak hours.

Two companies working on these sorts of innovation are Franklin Energy and Tendril. Franklin Energy has been in business for forty years with a business to business model as they sell information and consulting services to utility companies who then help consumers conserve energy. Tendril has a similar business model and has been named a Leader in Home Energy Management by Navigant Research. Personally, I find it fascinating to learn about the levels of business and the decades of dedication to balancing consumers seemingless endless energy demands with conservation.

Better understanding the energy conservation landscape motivates me personally to explore innovations in my home. Further, it excites me to see that bright minds, innovators, and investment capital are all dedicated to this important space which is continually evolving.