Resources: Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative Pilot Program: A Consert Case Study
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative is one of the largest electric cooperatives in Texas and has been serving members since 1939. Located just east of Austin, Bluebonnet serves more than 81,000 meters and owns and maintains 11,000 miles of power lines across more than 3,800 square miles within 14 central Texas counties.
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative sought a residential demand management program that would allow the utility to curtail load during peak times while also maintaining high customer satisfaction scores. In August 2011, Bluebonnet entered into a pilot agreement with Consert. Approximately 200 residential members were selected to participate in the program, which utilized Consert’s Virtual Peak PlantTM (VPP) technology. This VPP technology provides a real-time, intelligent load management system that creates measurable and verifiable capacity, dispatchable energy and cost savings for utilities.
Bluebonnet established the following goals for the pilot program:
- Analyze user adoption and engagement rates
- Measure participant behavioral change
- Measure participant acceptance of utility control
- Reduce overall energy consumption
- Reduce participant energy costs
- Curtail peaks and determine value and marketability
After setting up energy profiles that fit their personal living schedules, Bluebonnet pilot participants were able to manage and monitor their usage through any web-enabled device. For example, the temperature could be set higher or lower when leaving home in the morning and re-adjusted prior to returning at the end of the day, depending on the season. Participants were free to change their program preferences at home or remotely via their internet-based web portal or their mobile device.
In exchange for the ability to manage their highest energy-consuming devices (HVAC, water heater, pool pump) and reduce electricity consumption, pilot participants allowed Bluebonnet to initiate conservation events that managed these devices during periods of peak electricity demand. These events allowed Bluebonnet to reset the thermostat up or down four degrees, or switch off water heaters and pool pumps. Participants always had the option to opt out of the event, but most did not. Bluebonnet operators viewed aggregated consumption data in the form of detailed computer graphics on a dashboard, facilitating quick load projections and managing available power usage on their system. Load conservation events managed only the load the utility needed, precisely when it was needed, which provided additional capacity with instantaneous feedback to confirm the event. Consert installations around the country demonstrate that consumers saved as much as 20% on their electricity usage through better management of their highest energy-consuming devices.
Pilot participants received the following devices as part of the Bluebonnet pilot program: a device controller on high energy consumption devices such as water heaters, air conditioners and pool pumps for energy measurement and load control; a communicating gateway under the glass of the electric meter; and a programmable communicating thermostat. The measurement and control devices and thermostats communicate wirelessly via ZigBee to the Consert gateway. The gateway communicates in real time to the Consert data center via a 3G wireless network and information is presented graphically through secure utility and consumer portals.
During the course of the pilot, Bluebonnet utilized the Consert Solution to reduce peak demand as needed based on their load control strategies. This included events on coincident peak days, during real-time price spikes as initiated by the Lower Colorado River Authority, and system test days. Over 30 events were performed in 2011, and testing continued into the summer of 2012. Average realized load reduction was around 1.5 kW per participant. As an example, see the chart of an event run on July 30, 2012 that involved 161 participants and reduced load by 227 kW over 1 hour.
Event results are calculated using a comparison of five-minute meter data from the event day with a baseline created from three prior days with similar load (filtering out weekends and other event days). The baseline is adjusted for temperature differences prior to calculating the load shed.
What participants had to say:
A third-party survey sponsored by the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) demonstrated high satisfaction with the program. Results showed that 92% of members were satisfied overall with the pilot and 96% would enroll if offered permanently.
In addition, Bluebonnet member surveys revealed 92% would recommend the program to a neighbor and 88% said it’s important to them that their participation in the pilot is helping the utility better manage energy resources in the area.
In their own words:
“I feel like I want to proactively save money and save energy.”
“I’m able to better manage the temperature.”
“I like the way the whole program operates.”
Data Source: High-Level Process Evaluation for DM Pilot Project | Post Summer Curtailment Participant Study Results | LCRA and Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative | October 2011
The ability to initiate conservation events to adjust participant loads with real-time feedback allowed Bluebonnet to manage peak demand through improved load forecasting.
Bluebonnet increased efficiency by utilizing Consert’s technology to improve forecasting and capacity management, implemented demand management events, received outage management information and performed remote meter connect and disconnects. Additionally, the system allowed Bluebonnet to measure and verify “negawatts” (negative load) to build new potential, future revenue streams in ERCOT.
Bluebonnet pilot participants benefited from the Consert Solution by taking control of their major energy consuming devices including HVACs, water heaters and pool pumps.
In addition to providing outage notification and asset management, the program helped meet all of Bluebonnet’s goals for the program, including adoption and participant engagement, reduction of overall consumption and reduction in participant energy costs.