I never thought I’d see the day when we’d have a need for a Customer Solutions Center of Excellence. There was a time, not so long ago, when utility operating assets consisted of generation, transmission and distribution. The job was to generate the power, deliver it to the customer with good quality and reliability, and get paid. That was it. Customers were needed to pay the bill, but they weren’t part of the supply solution. Fast forward a few decades and companies are dispatching customer behavior just like generation - the whole “negawatt” thing. Everybody benefits. (also see FERC 745 – The Genie’s Out of the Bottle)

Who’d a thunk? And if you’ve been around this industry for a while you may remember demand management’s rocky start. Here’s a few of my memories:

  • Some of the early roof top load control switches had electronics that weren’t built to mil-spec. Hundreds of the switches would fail in the California Central Valley during the hottest hours of the hottest days, preventing customers from using their air conditioners until a utility crew arrived to bypass the device.
  • In Southern California some of the AC switches were operated by an onboard thermostat that cycled the compressors when the temperature exceeded a predetermined set point. Clever customers soon learned that they could keep their ACs running by cooling the units with spray from a water hose.
  • One summer the direct load control radio signals weren’t randomized and the pilot project’s AC switches were all synchronized, blowing up a major substation.
  • I worked in a high rise where lights supplied most of the heating. By law, winter thermostat settings were kept at 68 degrees F to conserve energy. So, around mid-day, no matter how cold it was outside, the building AC would kick on.

Despite all the technical problems, all the jokes about the thermostat police and the big brother utility, Demand Side Management, Demand Response, call it what you will, customer side solutions are here to stay and growing as a valuable part of the resource mix.