The City of Brotherly Love did not disappoint! Our community showed up for demand flexibility at AESP Summer Con. It is professionally and personally gratifying to be able to emerge from COVID and know this was our best-attended Summer Con ever. It reaffirms my belief that active efficiency and demand flexibility are pivotal to decarbonizing. Our community is not just rebounding; we are thriving, and our members are actively implementing demand flexibility projects that will define how we approach energy in future decades.

By mid-conference, it was clear that we were at an inflection point for active efficiency and demand flexibility. If you could not attend or need a refresher on what we covered in Philly, here are my top five takeaways.

Equity Drives Innovations in Education

The desire for equitable energy access is driving innovative programs and project design by making us find new solutions to meet unique community circumstances. One key component of equity is innovation in customer education. Many equity target communities are less likely to be exposed to or have access to basic energy education. That’s why APS is coupling marketing for income-qualified programs like their APS Marketplace with broader customer education opportunities such as virtual energy check-ups, thermostat installations, and field event teams.

 VPPs are the Future MVPs of Active Efficiency and Demand Flexibility

Recent summer heatwaves showed the Americas a hard truth: solving this problem is not as simple as generating more energy; we must also manage demand and optimize load to ensure reliability and price stability. These grid stress events make the prospect of virtual power plant (VPP) deployments a potential lifesaver for the grid. Virtual powerplants, when coupled with the latest electric and gas efficiency technology and DER, can align demand and distributed generation in ways unimaginable ten years ago. The benefits of VPPs up and down the power supply chain are vast, and as more utilities line up behind integrated resource planning, VPPs will only grow in importance.

“Go It Alone” Is Not an Option

Across all the demand flexibility case studies and conversations at Summer Con, it was evident that those experiencing success embraced collaboration as a central pillar of their programs and pilots. There was a noticeable shift in the conversation from what I hear at other energy events and tradeshows. I heard words like team, partner, together, and we; what I didn’t hear as much was account, customer, vendor, provider. Everyone seemed equally invested in success and wholly committed to sharing the burdens and challenges of growing the demand flexibility portfolios.

Managed Charging Is Essential

Electric Vehicle (EV) market growth is astounding. But, as more EVs are sold, more plug into the grid. That’s good news. It also presents some hurdles we have to overcome. Without including managed charging as part of the demand flexibility equation, we run the risk of having to make costly grid investments that would otherwise be unnecessary. We heard from WeaveGrid, Xcel, BGE, and SRP on ways they are using dynamic optimization, incentives, and seamless enrollment platforms to shape the charging behaviors of EV customers. When you have time, check out their amazing pilots.

Don’t You ForGEB About Me

I couldn’t do a top-five list without Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings (GEBs). It’s impossible and for good reason. Along with VPPs, GEBs are where we are most clearly seeing the evolution from energy efficiency and demand response to active efficiency and demand flexibility. At Summer Con, GridPoint showed us an exciting glimpse of how Walgreens is creating a model others can follow for how to respond to changing grid demands which was inspiring to me. Yes, challenges remain, but we saw that companies, utilities, and GEB enablers are collaborating to pilot solutions as we speak.

BONUS: Excluding Natural Gas from The Equation Is a Lose-Lose Scenario

I know for the decarbonization purists this is hard to hear, but natural gas must have a seat at the table. It is our duty to help bring them along and explore gas efficiency models to reduce usage and explore alternative fuels and fuel blending options. Excluding them in turn harms the communities reliant on their services and makes decarbonization a reality for the elite. Most of these communities cannot afford the hefty financial price tag that often comes with the push to simply electrify everything. But we have an opportunity to help the natural gas industry reduce its carbon footprint in the here and now and find a future that uses their infrastructure and expertise. We should embrace that chance.

 

Jen Szaro

Jen Szaro

President and CEO, AESP

Jen currently serves as President and CEO of the Association of Energy Services Professionals (AESP).

Within her role, she focuses educating and empowering AESP’s members on such topics as energy efficiency technologies, conservation strategies, demand response program design and implementation, demand flexibility strategies, grid edge technology deployment, beneficial electrification and demand side focused customer engagement strategies.

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