Watch Abhay Gupta’s conversation with Larry Bekkedahl, Senior VP of Advanced Energy Delivery at Portland General Electric to learn more about PGE’s data-driven and customer-centered approach to the clean energy transition and achieving a carbon-free future.
Several weeks following the record setting 2021 heatwave in Portland, OR, I had the opportunity to visit with Larry Bekkedahl, Senior VP of Advanced Energy Delivery at Portland General Electric (PGE). We spoke at length about how smart meter data helped PGE make it through a load period that was 10% greater than any other peak they’d ever experienced, winter or summer. In the end, PGE didn’t have to turn off the power for any of its customers. Looking forward, the utility is counting on data to help ensure that they can maintain that resiliency track record.
“You want to know which of your customers have flexibility. As an operator running a system, I need to see what I can influence,” Bekkedahl explained. “Maybe it’s your thermostat. Maybe it’s your hot water tank. Maybe it’s your electric vehicle that you’re charging. If I can influence you during that period when peaks occur, I can maintain the capacity of the system and keep everybody in power.”
In November 2020, PGE pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2030, and set an additional aspirational goal to achieve zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040. According to Bekkedahl, wind, solar and hydro power and energy storage will be essential to achieve those benchmarks. But he says customers will also play a pivotal role. The same customer data-driven principles that allowed the utility to optimize grid operations during the heatwave will help PGE and other utilities navigate the last mile to net zero.
“The real challenge is to get to 100% — or net zero — by 2040. We have to solve how we get that last 20%,” Bekkedahl told me. “The last mile is going to require things like demand response and creating flexible load with our customers.”
Transportation electrification highlights the important role customer participation will play in achieving a carbon-free future. The transportation sector generates the largest share of greenhouse gas emissions, amounting to 14% globally and a massive 29% in the USA. While EVs are an essential part of the net zero equation, they also mean greater load, requiring complex grid planning. In fact PGE is anticipating a 20% increase in load from EVs.
“Think about an electric vehicle. Typical charging is from 2-3 kW. A typical house uses 2-3 kW. So charging an EV doubles household demand. When you see a semi truck driving by hauling 10 electric vehicles, that’s like 10 new homes driving down the street. Those EVs are going to homes that today might only have a 100 amp panel, so we’re going to have to upgrade. And then that cascades to the transformer that feeds that home and maybe six others in the neighborhood, which means you’re going to have to upgrade the transformer too. Are you going to have to go to the feeder? And what about the substation? Does it have the capacity?” Bekkedahl challenged.
More than just an increase in load, EVs translate into concentrated load on the grid, both in terms of geolocation and time of use. EV adoption will not proceed at a uniform pace across entire service territories, with some communities and regions adopting EVs more quickly than others. Beyond geography, without any intervention, charging behaviors will yield more concentrated load in the form of two peaks: one when people come home in the evening and plug in, and a second peak at midnight when many cars are pre-programmed to start charging. Incentivizing customers differently depending on these two types of charging patterns can prove more cost-effective overtime.
“This is where data comes into play, and where customers really start to participate,” Bekkedahl emphasized. “This is where we have to show customers the economics, and encourage them to participate in charging at times that best serve grid resiliency. We know we have a capacity level of a given feeder, but if I can manage all these elements underneath it and keep it under its capacity, I won’t have to rebuild it. And I won’t have to disrupt service to add transformers. So it’s a win for the customer because prices don’t go up and it’s a win for the utility that can avoid a rebuild and avoid disrupting people’s lives because of it.”
Distributed Energy Resources
Utilities like PGE recognize that they must understand their customers at a deeper level in order to build energy solutions and foster the utility-customer partnerships that will be essential to achieve the last mile.
Different consumers are motivated by different things, and inspiring them to take carbon-saving actions requires tapping into each customer’s unique motivations with personalized, hyper-targeted appeals.
For more than a decade, Bidgely has been a pioneer in the energy disaggregation space, earning 17 patents for proprietary algorithms that transform smart meter data into actionable customer insights capable of supercharging utility operations.
Looking at transportation electrification as an example, utilities can use Bidgely’s Analytics Workbench platform to identify EV owners and their charging equipment and reveal their charging habits, including time of use and typical duration of charge.
Utilities are able to use that information to build productive relationships with EV-owning customers, such as by detailing for them every instance of their EV charging. This helps customers understand EV energy requirements, peak hours and how they can alter their charging habits to save money, help the planet or achieve other essential utility goals — customized to highlight the benchmark that best motivates that individual customer.
This same smart meter data-driven strategy supports greater solar adoption. Without access to solar inverters, utilities have historically been challenged to provide customers with insights into their generation and to forecast how much each solar customer will be generating for grid planning purposes. Using only meter data, Analytics Workbench is able to identify the size of a customer’s solar panels and the solar array’s historical and forecasted solar generation patterns. As with EVs, this information fosters a collaborative relationship with solar customers as they learn to optimize generation. Utilities are able to help customers understand when they are generating an energy surplus, how much energy they are using on a daily basis, and how to shift appliance and other energy use to their surplus-producing hours. The utility in turn benefits from insight into how many people are adopting solar and how much energy those customers will be generating.
Energy efficiency will also continue to play a critical role in achieving zero carbon goals. Here too, customer data amplifies the success of DSM programs across the board. For example, Analytics Workbench reveals whether a customer has an inefficient appliance, such as an AC unit that should be repaired or replaced. Utilities are also able to pinpoint when appliances are healthy but being used inefficiently, such as if an AC unit is running too many hours a day, and a smart thermostat would improve its efficiency. Similarly, utilities are able to identify pool pump usage, including both time of use and speed of the pump. With that information, customers can be encouraged to replace single speed units with more efficient variable speed models, and run the pump in off-peak hours.
The Power of Data
Analytics Workbench allows utilities to run massively powerful queries within minutes to engage customers with meaningful personalized offers and advice — in turn creating an ecosystem that supports sustainability and accelerates progress toward the carbon-free last mile.
Watch this on-demand video of my conversation with Larry Bekkedahl to learn more about Portland General Electric’s data-driven approach to the clean energy transition, and learn more about how Analytics Workbench plays an essential role in my keynote Powering a Clean Energy Future: Green Innovation Starts with Data session from the 2021 Smart Energy Summit.