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Smart Buildings Need Smart Grid’s Demand-Side Management to Ensure Sustainability

Imagine a city with smart buildings and smart technologies that leverage cloud-enabled, automated metering infrastructure (AMI) platforms deployed by utilities to not only remotely monitor and optimize the building’s energy usage, but also connect with the utility’s backend systems for cost-effective procurement of electricity. This is starting to happen to enable cities to not only lower their carbon footprint, but also achieve their energy sustainability goals.

Utilities, including rural electric cooperatives, have been implementing smart meters and advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) solutions as part of an overall effort to modernize the nation’s power grid and to make it smarter. The smart grid has many benefits both for consumers and for utilities. It enhances the interaction between the different systems that constitute the grid and establishes connectivity and two-way communication between the smart meters and the AMI head-end system. From a utilities standpoint, this reduces operating costs by enabling remote meter reading, remote connect/disconnect, etc., in addition to providing customers critical data such as outage alerts, event notification, usage data, time-of-use pricing and more.

The smart grid provides badly needed upgrades to the power transmission and distribution infrastructure for supporting increasing demand and decreasing the possibility of transmission congestion and blackouts, and also spikes and surges. Though the smart grid has many self-healing techniques built into it, it also helps utilities to manage their assets efficiently via real-time remote troubleshooting thus ensuring lesser truck rolls to problem location for problem diagnosis and reducing service restoration time. It also helps with distribution load management, thus reducing the need for additional generation and transmission capacity to meet increasing demand during peak periods. The key benefit for customers has undoubtedly been better understanding of their energy usage and ability to participate in energy efficiency programs. From an energy consumer standpoint, the smart grid lowers energy costs and gives the customer or the consumer more control over energy choices and spending by providing near real-time information on energy consumption for enabling reduction in consumption during peak periods.

The smart grid relies on IT and operational technology (OT) convergence. It relies on communications and control to coordinate the actions of intelligent devices like smart meters and other business and operations support systems (BSS/OSS) for optimizing system performance and improving power transmission and distribution. For seamless integration to happen, this requires not just APIs, but a platform that can support data gathering and analytics. And the AMI platform, which includes key systems like the Meter Data Management System (MDMS), is the information integration hub that works in conjunction with the demand response management system (DRMS) to manage the load, reduce peak power demand, and also to give end users more control over their energy usage. While the smart grid provides consumers the ability to make better informed decisions about their energy consumption, it is important for customers—primarily building owners and managers—to utilize demand-side management capabilities like intelligent Demand Response (DR) and Dynamic Load Control (DLC) prudently. In many ways, this is a paradigm shift in the operating model of utilities that have for over a century operated deterministically by balancing supply-side and demand-side resources. To do this, building managers must optimize systems and facilities through systematic monitoring and optimization of performance of different building systems and equipment such as HVAC, water heater, etc., and change energy consumption patterns of tenants by showing them their usage pattern visually with a dashboard. To retrieve historical and real-time data, the Building Energy Management System (BEMS) must be integrated with the AMI infrastructure for better managing costs.

Demand response empowers consumers of electricity. Modern DRMS solutions deployed by utilities have the ability to integrate the meter data management system (MDMS) with back-end, BSS/OSS, but also the BEMS through bi-directional communications for conditioning the load and executing DR events for reducing the demand. Building managers can monitor the energy usage in near real-time and determine peak demand periods to negotiate time-based rates such as time-of-use pricing and critical peak rebates. In addition to offering financial incentives, integrating the BEMS with the AMI infrastructure also automates load control that enables either real-time or predetermined load reduction to occur when a DR event is triggered. This can further help to intelligently operate heavy users of electricity like HVAC equipment and water heaters during periods of peak demand. It is this ability to dynamically control the load that has made demand response effective, since the intelligent edge systems are now able to dynamically respond to signals demanding load reduction. That in turn considerably reduces the overburdening of the grid.

Buildings are becoming greener and smarter today and are becoming increasingly networked with their utility company. Going forward, they will play a key role in contributing to the sustainability goal of the energy-smart cities they are part of, as sensor-equipped, energy consuming devices, such as HVAC, lighting, refrigeration, etc. that are integrated with the BEMS, dynamically interact with the grid as it evolves and becomes even more smarter. This evolution will also considerably lower energy costs, while improving grid reliability for developing the next generation of smarter cities.