Oracle and EnergyHub have teamed up to combine the benefits of the Opower customer engagement platform, the Oracle Utilities Network Management System (NMS), and the EnergyHub Mercury DERMS for utilities looking to harness the value of DERs. We sat down with EnergyHub President Seth Frader-Thompson to hear his perspective on how DERs are transforming the relationship between utilities and their customers.
Empowering utilities to partner with the connected customer
Connected devices and DERs are transforming the relationship between utilities and their customers.
Today’s residential utility customer can own multiple DERs, from smart thermostats to electric vehicles. The variety of distributed energy resources (DERs) spread across a utility’s service area pose both a challenge and an opportunity for utilities. Electric vehicle charging can significantly alter geographic and temporal load distribution. Batteries and residential solar generation affect the customer’s dependence on the grid.
At the same time, these devices can allow the customer to provide valuable services to the utility. Bring your own device (BYOD) programs, which are being implemented by utilities around the country, allow utilities to manage customer-owned devices for grid services such as load shift and demand response. Frader-Thompson spoke about how EnergyHub’s BYOD programs forge a new dynamic between customers and utilities.
“With the BYOD model, customers are more connected with the utility. These programs are great for the customer, the device provider, and the utility,” says Frader-Thompson. “The utility gives the customer an incentive to buy a smart thermostat, battery, or additional connected devices. The BYOD model enhances the value of a smart thermostat and other connected devices. It lets customers play their own part.”
EnergyHub’s platform gives utilities deep insight and control of these edge-of-grid assets, allowing the utility to understand where a DER is located on the grid, forecasting the behavior of that DER, and allowing the utility to manage these devices to provide grid services.
“Visibility into DERs, and having the ability to manage demand, converts them into a resource that provides flexibility for the grid. We’re at the point where these programs are realistically replacing powerplants,” says Frader-Thompson. “If you’re a utility with a decarbonization goal, a renewables standard, a business model transformation project – every year that goes by, you have a better business case for managing DERs.”
A sea change of DER adoption
The increasing adoption of electric vehicles alone will have a massive impact on the grid of tomorrow, a prospect that Frader-Thompson says will be both challenging and beneficial.
“If you look at the state of the market there are 15 million smart thermostats adopted,” says Frader-Thompson. “Then there are two million homes with solar, and one million electric vehicles (EVs).
“But in the future, there will be many times that number of EVs, all charging throughout the day, almost 24 hours of coverage – charging at home, at work, and different places.”
This constitutes a huge potential load on the grid. The BYOD model allows utilities to work with their own customers to manage this load.
“EVs help with decarbonization, and that’s very important,” says Frader-Thompson. “Having these charging vehicles connected to the network gives utilities flexibility in handling a load. Some are adding to the grid, some are pulling, and the utility can manage the process to balance demand.”
The anticipated scale of EV adoption, and their potential to provide grid services, makes programs to manage EV chargers one of the top priorities for utilities.
Frader-Thompson spells out the positive outlook for utilities: “You can elevate electric transportation, increase volumetric sales of electricity, decarbonize transportation, and have total grid flexibility. It unlocks the ability for the utility to offer a great customer experience through lower charging rates with a business opportunity.”
Batteries are another example of a customer-owned device that can be a powerful resource for utilities. Frader-Thompson says EnergyHub frequently sees battery storage paired with residential solar generation, creating potential for utilities to add flexibility.
“The battery cost-curve has come down. These programs can make batteries even more affordable, actually influencing consumer behavior,” says Frader-Thompson.
And with the Oracle and EnergyHub collaboration, utilities and customers will have a seamless experience with all connected devices on the network.
Partnership unlocks value from connected devices for utilities
The collaboration between the two companies connects Opower’s widely deployed utility customer engagement platform and Oracle’s market-leading Network Management System (NMS) with EnergyHub’s Mercury DERMS, providing utilities with a single solution that connects customers’ DERs and the utility’s grid.
The combined solution will help energy providers intelligently incorporate distributed energy resources (DERs) into their customer engagement strategy and distribution network operations, resulting in supercharged enrollment in BYOD programs, creating a connected utility experience for customers, and enabling utility distribution operators to integrate DERs at scale.