Residential Load Flexibility

Linking homes and grid

Residential Load Flexibility in connected homes

Residential load flexibility techniques coordinate energy use with the power grid in a manner that maintains comfort while improving the balance of supply and demand on the grid.

Image: Alexander Kirch | Shutterstock

There’s no place like home to make the power grid more resilient and reliable!

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are developing a system that establishes two-way communications between home devicessuch as heating and cooling units, water heaters, household appliances, and electric vehicle chargersand the grid. Effective communication and control strategies will help the grid balance supply and demand and will ultimately create a more reliable and resilient energy system.

A focus on existing homes

While newly constructed homes sometimes offer smart devices configured for two-way communication, vastly more homes do not. This is where PNNL’s work in residential load flexibility concentrates its efforts.

PNNL believes installation of emerging communication and control technologies in existing homes represents a significant opportunity to establish transformative relationships between homeowners, utilities, and the grid. A key to the success of these relationships, PNNL maintains, is giving homeowners extensive authority in managing their energy use.

A bridge to the grid

Under a residential load flexibility scenario, a home’s individual devices—such as an electric furnace or hot water heater—can adjust energy use in response to incentives or other signals from the power grid. At the same time, the devices are responsive to maintaining homeowner comfort levels and additional personal preferences, such as plenty of hot water at bath time. Collectively, a large number of homes automatically coordinating energy use and costs with the grid can serve as a potent tool for reducing power system stress. The arrangement can also convey economic benefits to occupants while minimizing lifestyle disruptions.

Researchers at PNNL are developing a prototype hardware and software control platform for homes that can be commercialized by industry and sold as a product. To gain marketplace acceptance, the platform must protect privacy, be low cost, and be easy to install. It also must work with existing home equipment and appliances to leverage a home’s energy management capabilities to benefit grid operations and reliability.

This strategy was developed collaboratively with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office and supports the objectives of the Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings Initiative.

Building, grid capabilities inform the work

PNNL’s VOLTTRON™ distributed sensing and control software serves as the foundation for development of the prototype platform. In addition to VOLTTRON™, PNNL brings a wide range of research and development experience to its work in residential load flexibility, including expertise in controls, software, buildings, and the grid. PNNL also works with partners such as the Bonneville Power Administration, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, and Portland General Electric and other utilities to study the responsive capabilities of major household appliances.