New England Utilities Keep Demand Response Simple and Sustainable

July 20, 2022

The model for New England electric utilities launching demand response programs in recent years has followed the time-honored and familiar KISS acronym.

The keep-it-simple approach–paying participants a flat rate per kW curtailed–has worked for the popular Connected Solutions demand response program, which New England Utilities National Grid, Eversource, and Unitil have successfully deployed since 2019 to help lower peak demand on their grids and keep overall costs low for rate paying customers in the commercial and residential sectors.

The success of the program’s simplicity justifies the approach. Look no further than Massachusetts, where an estimated 10% of peak load hours during the year account for roughly 40% of the operating cost of the grid.

Utility demand response programs such as Connected Solutions and others seek to reduce energy usage during these peak times and, in turn, reduce the overall costs of running the grid while keeping electricity rates stable for ratepayers.

The results have been impressive.

According to a December 2021 report by the national nonprofit organization Clean Energy Group, Connected Solutions had about 34,000 residential and commercial participants with 310 megawatts of capacity enrolled by the end of 2020.

In Volume III of CPower’s State of Demand Side Energy Management in North America, National Grid senior engineer Paul Wassink referred to the current state of utility demand response programs as “simple in design, yet effective in achieving results.” 

By choosing “simple” as a modifier,  Mr. Wassink isn’t slighting his industry’s demand management efforts, he’s merely pointing out that most utilities execute their demand response programs on peak days in order to reduce peak usage.

But it’s when he points to the future that Mr. Wassink hints that simple may not be enough to manage year-round peaks on an ever-evolving grid.   

“To attain the future we all desire,” Mr. Wassink has said, “utilities will need to add new demand response programs to help balance the grid every day of the year.”

This notion brings us to the last “S” of the KISS acronym. It doesn’t stand for what you think it does. 

Instead of a belittling moniker, the last “S” in the case of utility demand response programs of the future stands for sustainable.  

That means adding more utility demand response programs that not only strategically attack peak usage days but also allow distributed energy resources (DERs) to participate.

Enter the Daily Dispatch demand response program which seeks to help New England Utilities further reduce peaks on their distribution grids. 

Offered by New England utilities National Grid, Eversource, and Unitil, the Daily Dispatch program is designed to allow energy storage (batteries and thermal storage) to participate due to the resource’s ability to be dispatched quickly and frequently in response to rising peaks. 

For utilities that offer both programs, Daily Dispatch complements the Connected Solutions program, providing an additional non-wires solution to reduce secondary peaks on the grid.

Other New England states and utilities are following suit and introducing demand response programs of their own. 

One such state is Maine, which launched a new demand response program in March 2022 managed by the Efficiency Maine Trust and available to customers of the Central Maine Power and Versant Power electric utilities. 

The Demand Management Program (DMP) seeks to increase the efficiency of energy use in Maine by deploying measures and strategies such as demand response that mitigate the impact of peak demand on utilities’ transmission and distribution (T&D) systems.

The program also seeks to balance the increased penetration of intermittent renewables such as wind and solar on the grid. 

The DMP will consist of two discrete initiatives: The Demand Response Initiative (DRI) is a traditional capacity curtailment program where commercial and industrial (C&I) participants are compensated for reducing their electricity usage when called upon to do so. 

The Load Shifting Initiative (LSI) is focused on using both passive and active load-shifting strategies across fleets of devices, including energy storage installed by residential and small business customers.

While the DRI program was approved for 2022, the LSI was not but likely will be in 2023. LSI’s approval and launch will give Maine utilities a one-two punch against peak demand with a  traditional demand response program plus one that allows storage participation, similar to the solution other New England utilities wield with Connected Solutions and Daily Dispatch. 

All of the New England utility demand response programs can be combined with programs offered by the region’s grid operator, ISO-NE, including the Active Demand Capacity Resource Program (ADCR). 

By participating in both utility demand response programs and ISO-NE programs, organizations can earn significantly more revenue for helping the New England grid stay reliable and evolve to a cleaner, more dependable future. 

Simple and sustainable. 

New England utilities have a plan for using demand response programs to bridge from the grid of the past and present to the dependable and more sustainable grid of the future.

With each participating customer that signs on, the region blows a collective KISS goodbye to grid instability, high operating costs, and unstable electricity rates.

Matt Leckey