T&D World Magazine

Energy Orb Alerts Businesses When Conservation Is Needed to Prevent Power Shortages

As the summer season is approaching, Pacific Gas and Electric Company is arming its large business customers with a new tool that forewarns when power supplies are strained. The Energy Orb, which glows, pulsates and changes color to indicate when conservation is needed, was recently presented to 560 customers who use more than 200 kW of electricity and participate in the "frontline" demand response programs.

These customers--including manufacturing plants, food processors, colleges, office buildings, wineries, school districts, hospitals, research facilities, museums among many others--are the first to be called on to reduce energy usage when the California Independent System Operator implements its emergency stages as power reserves begin to dip.

While the California Energy Commission and the California ISO reports there will be ample supplies in both northern and southern California to meet demand this summer, successive days of hot weather or the loss of a major power plant or transmission line may lead the California ISO to implement its electrical emergency process, which calls for immediate conservation.

The Energy Orb is currently placed in a lobby or facilities manager's office to help alert them prior to and during an energy saving event. The tool is also educational as it lets the company's employees know when conservation is needed.

The Energy Orb is equipped with an electronic chip that receives a wireless signal every 15 minutes. The signal activates the orb to change colors to indicate a call to action. If there is no imminence of an event, the orb will remain blue. There is no Internet hook-up required, the device simply plugs into an electrical outlet using only 3.5 W of power.

PG&E's Energy Orb

-- Solid Blue: Standby -- No event is currently underway
-- Solid Yellow: Warning -- Day-ahead event warning has been issued.
-- Pulsing Yellow: Warning -- An event will occur later in the day
-- Solid Red: Activation -- Event has been activated and is currently in progress
-- Pulsing Red: Activation -- Event in progress and another declared for the following day
-- Solid Green: Testing -- Demand response notification system is being tested

Customers who sign-up for either the Critical Peak Pricing or Demand Bidding Program will be given an Energy Orb to display in their business. In addition, both programs offer a financial incentive for reducing energy use when called upon. Collectively, PG&E's demand response programs can account for 600 MW in reduced power (one MW is the equivalent of power used in 750 homes).

Demand Bidding Program (E-DBP) is a voluntary bidding program that is triggered when the California ISO has issued an Alert for the following day or when the state forecasted peak demand is expected to meet or exceed 43,000 Participating customers are notified by 3 p.m. the day before the event at which time they can voluntarily bid-in the amount of load reduction they will commit for the next day. Participants can earn an incentive for qualifying load reduction based on the forecasted hourly energy price.

Critical Peak Pricing (E-CPP) program offers commercial/industrial customers greater than 200 kW an alternative to traditional time-of-use rates. A CPP Event can only be activated during PG&E's summer season, between noon and 6:00 pm., Monday through Friday, excluding holidays. Customers on a CPP schedule receive reduced energy rates for all non-CPP usage during on-peak and partial-peak time periods during PG&E's summer rate season, May 1-Oct. 31. The maximum number of CPP Events per summer season is 12.

The Energy Orb was initially developed by Ambient Devices, as a way to track movement in the stock market. The Cambridge-based company has now expanded its uses to include tracking weather forecasts, traffic congestion and most recently energy usage. PG&E's Energy Orb is programmed specifically to indicate when energy-reduction events are forecasted or underway.

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