Grid Modernization

Mass. public power utility launches DR program

When the temperatures were in the upper 90s and humidity was high during the July 20 weekend, Belmont Municipal Light Department for the first time tapped an innovative demand response program to lower its load.

The public power utility serving Belmont, Mass., has teamed up with Virtual Peaker to create the Peak Reduction Rewards Program, which is in a pilot phase.

The pilot program that started this summer provides Belmont Light customers with an online portal to monitor and manage WiFi-enabled smart home devices and rewards them with bill credits for reduced energy usage during peak periods.

As the program grows, Belmont Light expects to see a noteworthy reduction of peak power supply costs.

The pilot program is open to customers with electric vehicles and smart thermostats, but Belmont Light intends to expand it to include hybrid heat pump water heaters and heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment into the program, according to Ben Thivierge, the utility’s Energy Specialist.  Belmont Light is considering adding solar inverters and battery storage to the program as it grows, he said.

Belmont Light expects to expand the program to include more devices and commercial customers.

Currently, 21 customers, all with EV chargers, are enrolled in the pilot, including two participants who have other devices enrolled in the program, Thivierge said.

Belmont Light would like to see all its roughly 200 customers with EVs in the program, he said.

In an initial real-world test, Belmont Light called on the program on July 20 and July 21 and had a high participation rate, even though it was the weekend, Thivierge said.

Belmont Light hopes the program will help it make a positive connection with customers and build trust.

The program grew out of Belmont Light’s search for demand response software that would be compatible with a mix of technologies and suitable for residential customers. Unlike Virtual Peaker, many of the options the utility found targeted only a single device type or only large commercial and industrial customers, according to Belmont Light.

Virtual Peaker, based in Louisville, Ky., has partnered with Green Mountain Power, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District and Austin Energy, among others.

Belmont Light is shifting to an advisor role in response to a need for trustworthy sources of information, according to General Manager Christopher Roy.

“As Belmont Light pursues our long-term plan of strategic electrification, we need to ensure that we are doing so in an effective and responsible manner,” Roy said. “Virtual Peaker gives us the ability to expand our offerings to customers and empower them to make informed decisions about their energy use.”

Belmont Light has about 11,650 customer meters.