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Heat Is Driving Technology Development: Can new equipment installations help supplement electric grid power?

By Jim Romeo | Sep 11, 2023
stock.adobe.com / ylivdesign

Summer 2023 went down as one of the hottest on record. With that, electrical energy consumption is expected to be sky high. Public utilities are often concerned about having enough energy on the grid to supply such high demand loads. Peak power supply has always been a concern.

Summer 2023 went down as one of the hottest on record. With that, electrical energy consumption is expected to be sky high. Public utilities are often concerned about having enough energy on the grid to supply such high demand loads. Peak power supply has always been a concern.

What if homeowners could make slight modifications to their newly installed electrical equipment, such as electric water heaters, to help these efforts and lighten their energy bills? What if that equipment was powered by sustainable sources such as solar and wind?

In Hawaii, where the sun shines and the wind blows plentifully, Shifted Energy installed smart water heater control modules in more than 3,000 households in multifamily condos and apartment buildings. With these cellular-connected smart water heater control modules, families earn about $3 a month in utility bill credits. 

The control modules adjust the power supplied to the water heater as solar and wind shifts. This ensures there is enough energy to provide hot water, but it also feeds back any excess to the power grid when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing beyond the water heaters’ energy needs. This allows Shifted Energy to turn those water heaters on and off to help balance the grid during sudden shifts in wind and solar power supply. 

This virtual power plant offers the local utility more capacity from the incremental power supplied by the water heater power sources. The net effect is a collective capacity of up to 2.5 megawatts of fast-responding grid support.

Electric school buses

A similar arrangement is emerging with the use of more electric school buses. They are helped along by a slew of federal grants made possible by many programs under the Inflation Reduction Act. As batteries become more prevalent in school bus fleets, they are used for just short segments and then charged for a large period of time, storing their energy for later use. 

Now many power companies are footing the bill for charging infrastructure at the school district’s bus lot, in return for a tap into the stored energy of the buses’ batteries to help them meet their peak load demands during periods such as the hot summers.

Beverly (Mass.) Public Schools, for example, is using its electric buses for more than transportation. It has bidirectional chargers to charge the bus batteries and allow them to send energy back to the grid.

Local Boston news outlet WBUR described the advantage best: “Electric buses are ideal backup power plants for two reasons. First, they carry a big battery—a lithium-ion ­battery with three times as much capacity as an electric car. Second, the school buses usually don’t have a ‘summer job.’”

Backup generators

Homeowners who have solar panels on their roofs have been selling power back to utilities for years. Now the equipment is being used to serve the same process. Many homes and businesses have installed backup generators to protect against outages caused by natural disasters—especially in recent times when hurricanes and weather-related storms have resulted in large power outages. Plus, some states such as Texas (with an unregulated electrical grid) have experienced large power outages for various reasons.

In 2021, Generac Power Systems introduced a line of standby generators for home and commercial applications. Their PWRcell solar-plus-battery storage systems are offered as “smart grid ready.”

When not being used to supply backup power (which is most of the time), these generators can produce power and sell it back to the grid, reducing the owner’s bill and helping utilities that need the incremental power to satisfy their own peak loads.

Don’t forget about the rising strain placed on public utilities to provide sufficient electrical power to keep the air conditioning on during peak demand in the dog days of summer. This demand continues to grow and is problematic for many utilities.

As equipment becomes more sustainable and powered by alternate sources, such as solar and wind, owners of such equipment can earn a dividend back in their pockets by selling excess power to utilities. 

This dynamic is growing, and there are many likely upsides to the use of such equipment and alternate power. For electric contractors, it is undoubtedly a space to watch.

Header image: stock.adobe.com / ylivdesign

About The Author

ROMEO is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He focuses on business and technology topics. Find him at www.JimRomeo.net.

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