Powering Strong Communities

Snohomish PUD is launching cloud-based residential DSM pilot

Washington State’s Snohomish County Public Utility District (SnoPUD), with its partner Virtual Peaker Inc., plans to roll out a cloud-based energy management system for its customers in the coming months.

SnoPUD expects to begin the FlexEnergy pilot program this spring and run it for two consecutive winters, concluding in spring 2023.

“The main goal of the program is to study how customers respond to a variety of incentives,” SnoPUD spokesman Aaron Swaney said.

The program is being launched in advance of the utility’s plans to install advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) in 2023. SnoPUD hopes the FlexEnergy program will provide valuable data so that when the new metering system is installed, the PUD will have a better idea of what kind of incentives to offer to help shave peak loads.

SnoPUD, like other utilities in the Pacific Northwest, faces its highest peak demand during the cold winter months. That creates a challenge when it comes to keeping its fuel mix clean, Swaney said. SnoPUD’s fuel mix is now about 98 percent clean and averaged 95 percent over the last five years, he said.

Under Washington State’s Clean Energy Transformation Act, utilities must eliminate coal-fired generation by 2025 – SnoPUD has already reached that goal – must be greenhouse gas neutral by 2030, and by 2045 all utilities must generate 100% of their power from renewable or zero-carbon resources.

When launched, the Flex Energy program will be open to nearly all SnoPUD’s customers and, even though the program will make use of smart technologies, owning a smart device is not a requirement of enrollment into the program.

The program will test out three different types of incentive mechanisms, all aimed at shifting or curbing customers’ peak energy use. Two rely on rate design to influence customers’ energy usage. The third is behavioral and operates like a demand response program, offering incentive payments to customers for lowering their energy use during certain times. SnoPUD has not yet determined what kind of incentives it will offer.

The rate design mechanisms of the FlexEnergy program are a fixed rate option and a fixed peak pricing option.

The first will offer cheaper pricing during set times. The fixed peak pricing option will involve sending alerts to notify customers of opportunities to save money by reducing their energy use during expected peak periods. SnoPUD estimates there could be about six of those types of events per year, Swaney said.

Virtual Peaker will serve as the intermediary between SnoPUD and its customers. The PUD said it plans to leverage Virtual Peaker’s Distributed Energy Resources Management System (DERMS), which will be used to enable customer and communicating device enrollment, event scheduling and management, and pilot analytics.

Virtual Peaker, based in Louisville, Kentucky, is a cloud-based energy management platform that uses internet-of-things technology to connect household smart devices to allow utilities to run residential demand response programs.