Four Ways the New Energy Consumer Takes Control

May 8, 2015
These four technologies give energy consumers direct control over a sustainable and reliable energy supply. They help create a larger, more dynamic set of distributed energy resources to help strengthen the main grid.

They’re smart, proactive, want to cut costs and ensure their electricity supply isn’t interrupted. They’re the new energy consumers — and they’re taking control of their electricity supply, especially in four ways: with energy management, microgrids, energy storage and by connecting with the smart grid. These are the findings of a new white paper from Schneider Electric that dives into the new energy landscape.

These four technologies give energy consumers direct control over a sustainable and reliable energy supply. They help create a larger, more dynamic set of distributed energy resources to help strengthen the main grid. They can support existing facilities or be integrated as part of new “greenfield” projects.

The first technology, energy management, has been around for a long time, with systems available mostly for large customers and industries. Now, however, they’re available for smaller buildings. The energy management systems are generally made up of a network of digital energy meters connected to central analysis and control software. They’re designed to provide information about the consumption profiles of various loads and processes. This helps users identify inefficiencies and warn them early of potential power quality or reliability problems.

A second technology embraced by savvy energy consumers is the microgrid technology. This is essentially a mini grid that can integrate a number of energy resources, including renewable energy and CHP. They can operate separately from the grid, protecting the owner from power outages, in parallel with the main grid, or connected to it.

More than 388 microgrids are now in operation, under development, or proposed worldwide, in remote locations such as islands and isolated communities not connected to the grid. However, with reduced natural gas and solar panel prices, grid-connected microgrids in urban areas are becoming more and more common. For these new urban microgrid owners, the technology allows for the use of green energy, optimizes participation in demand response programs, and reduces the effects of power interruptions.

A third technology, energy storage, has helped bring renewable resources to microgrids and the main grid. Advanced energy storage is expected to be the single largest investment category among “microgrid enabling technology” options by 2023, according to Navigant Research.

Energy storage  extends the value of renewable energy sources by allowing consumption by the energy storage owner to be increased by up to 100 percent. And storing energy onsite allows for increased energy flexibility. Energy storage also helps optimize participation in demand response programs and provides ancillary services to the grid. It also is used as backup supply in microgrids after a disruptive event, replacing the need to maintain dirty backup sources.

A fourth technology employed by the new energy consumers is smart grid technology to optimize how distributed energy resources are managed. This consists of  advanced information, communication, and control platforms  that give energy consumers an intelligent, transparent way to manage their distributed energy resources and a way  to participate in smart grid programs.

At their most comprehensive, smart grid technologies integrate information such as weather forecast data, energy market pricing, load profiles and forecasts of  the consumer’s energy needs and constraints on operations. These systems allow users to predict how best to consume, store and produce energy.

Savvy energy consumers are embracing these four technologies for good reason: They gives users control of their energy resources, reduce costs, integrate clean energy and allow consumers to operate independently of the grid.

For a more in-depth discussion on the four technologies that allow users to take more control of their energy–plus a case study on how one town in Connecticut used a microgrid to take control of CHP and green energy sources–download this white paper from the Microgrid Knowledge White Paper Library.

About the Author

Lisa Cohn | Contributing Editor

I focus on the West Coast and Midwest. Email me at [email protected]

I’ve been writing about energy for more than 20 years, and my stories have appeared in EnergyBiz, SNL Financial, Mother Earth News, Natural Home Magazine, Horizon Air Magazine, Oregon Business, Open Spaces, the Portland Tribune, The Oregonian, Renewable Energy World, Windpower Monthly and other publications. I’m also a former stringer for the Platts/McGraw-Hill energy publications. I began my career covering energy and environment for The Cape Cod Times, where Elisa Wood also was a reporter. I’ve received numerous writing awards from national, regional and local organizations, including Pacific Northwest Writers Association, Willamette Writers, Associated Oregon Industries, and the Voice of Youth Advocates. I first became interested in energy as a student at Wesleyan University, Middletown, Connecticut, where I helped design and build a solar house.

Twitter: @LisaECohn

Linkedin: LisaEllenCohn

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