Whether we’re flipping on a light switch or enjoying the cool blast of an air conditioner on an oppressive summer day, we typically use electricity without much thought or hesitation. Behind this simple on and off equation, however, is a delicate balance of energy supply and demand. If the balance is threatened, energy reliability suddenly comes into question. Honeywell is working to shore up energy reliability by offering consumers innovative ways to help manage their energy use, especially during peak times like summer heat waves, which helps keep the power on for everyone.
Many things can challenge energy reliability as we know it, from hurricanes and heat waves, to grid failure resulting from aging infrastructure. Just a few months ago, a power outage affected much of Washington, DC– including the White House, State Department and Smithsonian museums – an outage officials say was caused by an equipment failure at a southern Maryland power facility. Believe it or not, this type of event isn’t that surprising, given that some of the country’s existing infrastructure dates back to the late 1800s, earning a D+ from the American Society of Civil Engineers on the organization’s 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure. As the report also notes, the availability of new energy sources, such as wind and solar energy, combined with a move to “retire” older power plants and equipment has added another layer of complexity.
While upgrading our electrical infrastructure is a significant priority, it’s also a tall order that will require heavy investment and time. Replacing the old power poles, wires, transformers and plants that dot the landscape is an effort likely to span decades. But as that process unfolds, utilities and other organizations are employing new tools and technologies to help ensure the lights stay on. One evolving strategy is for utilities to collaborate with customers to manage when and how much energy is consumed. Rather than trying to balance the grid by dialing generators up — and potentially overtaxing the system — homeowners and companies can trim energy use by an incremental amount. Also known as demand response, this temporary shift is not significant enough to impact individual comfort or business operations, but can collectively alleviate the burden on the grid when consumption spikes. And the broad societal impact comes with the added benefit of energy savings and, often, payments or utility bill credits for taking part.
Energy availability across the city with Automated Demand Response: Now, with technology advancements that are making it easier than ever to connect energy producers and users, more utilities and grid operators are turning to demand response. In San Antonio, for instance, CPS Energy is using automated demand response technology and services from Honeywell, working with residential, commercial and industrial customers to help make sure energy is available across the city. The ability to adjust electricity consumption for a couple hours is especially critical in June, July and August when 100-degree days are as common as Alamo souvenirs.
Real-time Weather update with Wi-fi Thermostats: Another option is available this summer to consumers in Texas using one of Honeywell’s Wi-Fi thermostats with the Total Connect Comfort app. They can sign up for the WeatherBug Home software update that optimizes the Honeywell thermostats based on the latest weather conditions. By integrating WeatherBug Home’s real-time, hyper-local data and patent-pending algorithms, homeowners with Honeywell Wi-Fi thermostats can automatically adjust their thermostat set points to a maximized blend of comfort and savings. They will also be able to access free Home Energy Insight ScoreCards and help local energy utilities boost efficiency, better allocate resources, and keep the power on during peak demand times.
Energy Reliability with Microgrids: Energy reliability is also an energy security issue for some organizations, such as hospitals and military bases. For these organizations, microgrids help optimally use available generation and provide power for critical operations when there are disruptions on the utility grid. A microgrid works as a veritable energy security net, automatically disconnecting a site from the utility grid in the event of an energy incident like an outage, and tapping into onsite generation to keep the site powered and up and running.
It’s true that we can’t control the weather, and managing its toll on our grid is a significant challenge. And for many, controlling energy supply and the infrastructure that supports it isn’t within grasp, either. However, we can control how we manage our demand with smart tools such as demand response and microgrids — ensuring energy reliability even when other factors aren’t as certain.