2016 WAE Q3 Recap: Smart Buildings & Grid Modernization

-Ossama Ayesh, Fellow

How can we develop smart, viable solutions to achieve greater reductions in energy demand and make advancements on sustainability initiatives? On September 8, various energy industry professionals across Washington D.C. met to discuss and identify issues respective to technology, buildings, and distributed energy optimization. The ideas and thoughts exchanged on bringing in new technologies and scaling existing initiatives presented a wide array of paths forward.

Facilitated by H.G. Chissell, Executive Director of Washington Advanced Energy, stakeholder supported, invitation-only quarterly forums are held to promote constructive dialogue among key energy stakeholders and produce tangible results in the District. Hosted by Holland & Knight, energy storage, peak loads, energy efficiency, and using technology to utilize data analytics were the most discussed topics at the Washington Advanced Energy Stakeholders Breakfast. The event featured Dr. Taresa Lawrence, Deputy Director at D.C. Department of Energy and Environment; Robert Stewart, Manager of Smart Grid and Technology at Pepco Holdings; Taite McDonald, Senior Policy Advisor at Holland & Knight; Zach Dobelbower, Sustainability & Energy Manager at D.C. Department of General Services; Rimas Gulbinas, CEO at Maalka; Scott Pomeroy, Director of Sustainability Initiatives at DC Improvement District; and Bill Updike, Chief, Green Building and Climate at D.C. Department of Energy and Environment. Featured panelists engaged in constructive dialogue and spoke on important developments regarding energy storage, efforts towards greater sustainability and resiliency, and ways in which overall capacity concerns can be addressed to achieve targeted outcomes. Achieving utility scale reductions in energy demand among energy users contributing to the top 100 hours has been a point of focus since the previous Stakeholders Breakfast last May. During the September 8 panel discussion, there was a specific focus on identifying patterns and trends to leverage existing efforts to understand the unique needs of each building in the District.

The discussion opened with a brief overview of key major developments in the region. Taite McDonald shared her experiences working in the District and how it has shaped her understanding of these main developments. She asserted that energy storage is really being deployed more broadly and is here to stay. Previous conversations were centered around affording resiliency, but with technology, prices have gone down and utilities are getting smarter. Further emphasis was placed on the June 16 White House announcement of Federal and Private Sector Actions on Scaling Renewable Energy and Storage with Smart Markets. Notably, some of these projects have already gained traction and the White House will likely continue to build on this progress.

McDonald placed another key development on the table: financing structure. She argued that we have seen huge developments in financing which will change the market and deployment of broader energy solutions. Keeping these developments in mind, along with understanding how quickly energy storage can come online will prevent many hurdles from becoming long-term challenges. Also pertinent to the discussion was the topic of elections. Upcoming elections will impact many individuals in the industry in one way or another, and will compel industry leaders to consider strategies to keep initiatives afloat. Finally, Taite McDonald presented one seemingly simple but important consideration: the need to have experience from past projects and initiatives translate into actionable solutions for current targets.

From a local government perspective, Dr. Taresa Lawrence provided a number of comments on the DOEE’s focus on reliability, resiliency, and sustainability. The aim, she exclaimed, is to provide a range of programs, policies, and incentives that would result in the provision of clean, affordable, and resilient energy. This mission is guided with the view to promote further economic growth. However, while a major goal is to spread the economy, this mission pays strong attention to the green economy in terms of creating local jobs and more jobs in general. Among some notable legislation in the District, the Distributed Generation Amendment Act was passed, allowing the DOEE to become a national leader in achieving greater sustainability. In terms of key targets, the 50/50/50 goals are expected to be realized in 2030. She argued that these goals will result in a 50% increase in renewables, 50% reduction in GHG emissions, and 50% reduction in overall energy consumption. The focus of this comprehensive energy plan will be centered around new construction in terms of net zero requirements, existing buildings, clean and renewable energy supplies, modernized electricity systems, as well as transportation, which will be the topic of the upcoming Washington Advanced Energy Stakeholder Breakfast on December 8th.

Dr. Taresa Lawrence then shifted gears towards the affordability gap currently existent in the District. Recent data suggests that individuals living in low-income households can sometimes pay 30% of their income on utilities. Acknowledging these issues, Dr. Lawrence noted the recent merger with Pepco and Exelon, which is part of her work to address this gap. Most recently, the District was successful in alleviating some of the burdens of these individuals by allowing a portion of residents’ utility bills to be forgiven, which is conditional, of course, upon residents making initial payments. Finally, with regard to reducing the energy burden on households, it was expressed that closer attention should be paid to the overall energy portfolio of homes. Such measures include programmable thermostats to reduce energy consumption and having auditors determine measures to better understand the various metrics of the home. Therefore, she argued, we can address the energy costs, the efficiency of the home, and finally shift our purview to solar.

Having to choose priorities have shown us that reliable clean and affordable energy are at the top.

As it stands, the DOEE is operating a low-income solar program with the Department of General Services to deliver solar to low-income households, with a current target at reaching 100,000 low-income households by 2032. “The current trend in D.C. is ensuring technology installed in homes, such as smart switches and automated sensors, and can be funded through Washington D.C. government”, expressed Dr. Lawrence. As the DOEE is responsible for delivering overall energy assurance to the District, the Department is currently working to improve critical infrastructure broadly. A focus on various grid modernization revealed ways to make the energy system more interactive and efficient. Moving forward, grid modernization will be important to mitigating disruptions from voltage swings and/or power management issues. Adhering to these major recommendations will better inform our actions in terms of delivering on top priorities. When asked by H.G. Chissell how important it is to deliver on these key areas, Dr. Lawrence asserted that “having to choose priorities have shown us that reliable clean and affordable energy are at the top.”

Moving forward in the discussion of key energy issues impacting the District, the conversation turned to energy storage projects. Robert Stewart skillfully presented the example of Chesapeake College. In working on energy storage projects, he is currently focused on doing an analysis for what the capacity is for the homeowner and contractor through a variety of ways, such as through modelling Distributed Energy Resources (DER). Specifically relating to the Chesapeake College project, Robert Stewart reached an agreement with SolarCity for two years to mitigate many of the issues around energy storage and develop solutions around these issues. Through a grant secured for this project to contract a 500kw battery on campus, he looked to isolating loads, which, in turn, allowed him to establish the campus microgrid. Despite this, Stewart argues there are still opportunities to improve these meters. By attempting to interface the central control program to include other intelligence assets, such as smart voltage regulators, we can potentially open up more capacity, he said. With 40,000 customers in the District, Mr. Stewart’s projects help manage the prevention of back feeding. Also, keeping in mind modeling capabilities and growth forecasts, Robert expressed that managing technologies better allow for customers to interconnect and achieve greater efficiency standards.

The value proposition needs to be demonstrated to people across the spectrum.

Throughout the day, it became apparent that the ideas circulated were not only encouraging and highly relevant to the current issues facing the D.C.’s energy industry, but helped to facilitate needed change. Zach Dobelbower articulated some of his work in the district. His group provides work space for 77 agencies and serves 1,000 occupants daily. Their fixed costs are about $100 million annually, with electricity comprising of half of this figure, amounting to 44,000 megawatt hours. Zach made it clear that he is keen on responding faster with load reductions. Also, their summer Demand Response program contains 1.2 megawatts enrolled and tested, and next year, he will help expand a pilot program to target 10-15 megawatts. More importantly, advanced building technologies has allowed DGS to respond to extreme weather events. Furthermore, his pilot program is intended to enhance economic development and serve as an energy and innovation hub. He sees the next steps for this pilot project being to educate people on savings that can be realized, but argued this must be done through employing an outside-in approach.

   Coming from a buildings standpoint, Scott Pomeroy shared some of his experiences dealing with many of these issues. He asserted, “the value proposition needs to be demonstrated to people across the spectrum.” And he is right. The ability to drill down into this information allows us to understand the needs and behaviors of tenants, as well as understand how tenants can benefit from savings too. He also concurred with the need to further develop and incorporate technology in the industry, and argued the ability to utilize data to approach building owners is critical in order to realize the benefits of AMI smart meters. Scott Pomeroy was clear: transparency will enable us to utilize data in ways that will lead to greater scalability. Bill Updike also provided some essential perspectives. He shared his experience with driving progressive policies in the industry. Citing the District as being a city that not only controls its own energy code, but has adopted the international green construction code as well, Bill argued financing is a key piece to unlocking untapped potential that he believes exists.

   Continuing the conversation on technology, Rimas Gulbinas presented a number of key points. In different cities, technology gaps have been leveraging existing efforts and initiatives. There are patterns relating to data visualization that we are trying to streamline, he emphasized. The goal is to create an ecosystem around this data. Once public initiatives are leveraged to promote change, surveying becomes necessary across buildings. As it stands, solar data and energy data at large are being collected. But Rimas posed an interesting question: How can we find that kernel of data to streamline these efforts? Gulbinas thinks that we can achieve this by moving beyond benchmarking directly to financing. By narrowing in on key goals, we can prioritize needs. The key ingredient here, he exclaimed, is using technology to utilize data analytics. Finally, opening data for innovation is equally important. Different workflows will enable new markets and new investments. The main gaps in technology consist of maintaining efforts around goals, such as the 100-hour initiative, even after goals are achieved. The current initiatives towards promoting greater transparency is integral to any public initiative or project. There are traditionally problems with cities not understanding the value for the originators of data. Part of Maalka’s vision, Rimas argued, is to help stakeholders realize these benefits.

   Washington Advanced Energy’s Executive Director H.G. Chissell puts this breakfast discussion into context. In bringing together this diverse group of stakeholders, he has created a platform for turning these views and discussions into viable solutions for the District. Equally important were the survey results gathered from the attendees in the room. Among the main takeaways, participants mainly stated that the most important energy goals and objectives should be clean, affordable, and resilient energy for the District. When asked to identify the three most important energy priorities in order to achieve transformative progress towards these goals, a number of surveyors emphasized executing on big plans, enhancing data intersection and integration, and knowledge sharing moving forward. So, what do we expect in the time ahead for the District? We should look towards building a more sustainable future.

Mark your calendar for the next Washington Advanced Energy Stakeholder Series: Energy, Mobility & Transportation on Wed, Dec 7, 2016 6:30pm - Thu, Dec 8, 2016 11:30am

Space is limited.  Request an invitation