OPPD program harnesses smart thermostats for savings

Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats give homeowners unprecedented opportunity to control their energy use, and Omaha Public Power District You are leaving WAPA.gov. (OPPD) has now created a program that rewards customers for sharing that control with the utility.

The Nest thermostat™ can learn homeowners’ behaviors, keep the house comfortable and save money on energy bills.
Nest thermostats™ can learn homeowners’ behaviors, keep the house comfortable and save money on energy bills. (Photo by Nest)

Different kind of demand response
Residential customers who have installed, or who plan to install, Nest thermostats™ are eligible to enroll in “Nest Rush Hour Rewards.” They receive a $100 credit on their electric bill for enrolling in the program and an additional $20 credit annually.

On certain days in May through October, when demand for electricity is high, OPPD may declare a Rush Hour event during which Nest adjusts participants’ air conditioning through their thermostats. This can occur for up to four hours, between noon and 9 p.m. Participants generally have two hours’ notice before the event, giving Nest time to pre-cool the home. OPPD may schedule critical Rush Hour events in an emergency, where customers would receive a 10-minute notice.

Customers don’t need to be home to turn down their heating or cooling and if they get uncomfortable during the Rush Hour, they are able to adjust their home temperature remotely.

Automation makes it easy
Nest Rush Hour Rewards You are leaving WAPA.gov. is a partnership between the smart-thermostat manufacturer and energy providers. By teaming up with Nest, utilities gain a tool for lowering demand while helping consumers get the most value from their investment.

The OPPD request for proposals (RFP) for a smart-thermostat program called for a cost-effective, easy-to-use unit that had high acceptance in the marketplace. Jay Anderson, project director for OPPD’s Power Forward Initiative, noted that Nest best matched the RFP’s criteria. “We will consider other thermostats as we learn from operating the program,” he said.

Nest is among the most popular interactive thermostats on the market today. It can learn homeowners’ behaviors, keep the house comfortable and save money on energy bills. Homeowners can adjust their heating and cooling systems remotely and allow their power providers to do the same.

Part of big picture
The Thermostat Program is part of a broader initiative OPPD launched with the goal of reducing demand by 300 megawatts (MW) by 2023. “Reducing our need for electricity, when demand is at its highest, helps reduce our need to purchase electricity or build a new power plant,” said Anderson. “And that helps keep costs down for all of OPPD’s customers.”

OPPD is not relying on smart thermostats alone to achieve such an ambitious goal. The initiative encompasses programs that tackle commercial and industrial, as well as residential loads. The utility’s Cool Smart program currently controls 60 MW of residential air conditioning, not including the Nest thermostat™ program. Cool Smart participants must cancel their enrollment in that program before signing up for Nest Rush Hour Rewards. “The two programs use different strategies to curtail the same load, so there are no additional savings to be gained from participating in both,” Anderson explained.

The Thermostat Program and Cool Smart are the only residential demand response programs that OPPD offers at this time. But the “bring-your-own-device” model for Rush Hour may prove to be a way OPPD can adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace. “This allows us to see what customers are interested in and add new technology to our efficiency programs as it makes sense,” said Anderson.

Smart technology offers many potential benefits to the consumer who is willing to try something new. Omaha Public Power District, a smart utility, is discovering it can share in those benefits by rewarding its customers’ pioneering spirit.

Source: Public Power Daily, 12/14/17