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Grid project lets consumer handle electricity use

IBM played a key role in a government research project that helped consumers reduce their electric bills while easing stress on the utility grid. The company was the overall system architect and integrator of a “real-time market pricing control system” at the heart of the project.

Run by the U.S. Department of Energy, the year-long project in Washington and Oregon comprised two studies. The Grid Friendly Appliance Project demonstrated that household appliances can automatically reduce energy consumption at critical moments when they are fitted with controllers that sense stress on the grid. The Olympic Peninsula Project found homeowners are willing to adjust their individual energy use based on price signals they could receive 24/7 via the Web. Both studies helped reduce pressure on the grid during times of peak demand.

“We’re not talking about traditional demand response where consumers have little or no control,” said Ron Ambrosio, Global Research Lead for Energy & Utilities, IBM Research. “We’re talking about putting the power into the hands of the consumers, who can customize their energy use to save money or maximize comfort. They can check the financial implications of their decisions at any time, and adjust or override their settings whenever they choose.”

Participants saved approximately 10 percent on electricity bills compared to the year before, and their peak demand dropped by as much as half for periods of up to three days.

More than 100 homeowners participated in the Olympic Peninsula project. They received new electric meters, as well as thermostats, water heaters and dryers connected via home gateway devices to IBM software. The software let homeowners set each device to a customized level of comfort or economy and automatically responded to changing electricity prices in five minute intervals. To reduce usage in peak periods (when electricity is most expensive), the software automatically lowered thermostats or shut off the heating element of water heaters to the pre-set limits established by individual homeowners.

Participants received constantly updated pricing information via the Internet. Each household also had access to a virtual bank account that held the money saved by adjusting home energy consumption in collaboration with needs of the grid. With the help of these tools, consumers easily and automatically changed how and when they used electricity, for their own financial benefit and the benefit of the grid.

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Putting power in the hands of consumers (press release)