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Power Technology Hardware

Arizona Trialing System That Lets Utility System Control Home A/Cs 393

Posted by timothy
from the so-you-preferred-the-brownouts-sir dept.
AzTechGuy writes "Arizona Public Service Co., Arizona's largest power company, is implementing a test program that would put customers' thermostats under their control to help balance power needs during critical peak usage times. APS will be able to remote control the customers' thermostats to control power draw from their A/C when there is a critical power transmission issue on the grid. Customers will be able to override these settings if they desire."
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Arizona Trialing System That Lets Utility System Control Home A/Cs

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  • by dunc78 (583090) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:44PM (#31963960)
    BGE already does this in Maryland.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      They also have it in Southern California. We opted out. My mother is 90 and my sister has MS and can't handle hot weather very well. Me, I think it's a stupid idea for consumers.
      • by SydShamino (547793) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:07PM (#31964136)

        Austin Energy has been giving out free 7-day programmable thermostats for years, with the caveat being that they can control them when necessary to balance load.

        This is nothing new to see here, move along territory.

        • They got this on my hot water....and I can't opt out or over ride. They report only using it for about an hour at a time, and only 2 or 3 days a year for the last few years though. Yes, peak demand during summer afternoons.

          Phil

          • If they killed my hot water during the summer in AZ, I'd be ok with that. As it is I take the coldest showers I can get, because going to work when it's already 90 is the suck.

            • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

              by Opportunist (166417)

              It's less funny when you happen to be subject to "some error of unknown source" (yeah, sure) that ensures that you only have COLD water from November to somewhere in February in northern Europe... brrr.

          • by cyn1c77 (928549) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @03:38AM (#31965384)

            They got this on my hot water....and I can't opt out or over ride. They report only using it for about an hour at a time, and only 2 or 3 days a year for the last few years though. Yes, peak demand during summer afternoons.

            Phil

            Just out of curiosity, how does that work? You can't override a system that sits in your house?

            What do you get out of this deal? Can you just not pay your bill during your peak expense season? Quid pro quo, you know?

      • by D'Sphitz (699604) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:07PM (#31964138) Journal
        Why is it a stupid idea? It beats losing your power altogether, doesn't it? I imagine this would mostly affect people who are at work all day with the central air running full blast, the people who are home would just override it.
    • by b0bby (201198)

      So does Pepco (also in MD). My thermostat can be set for an hour to 50, 25 or 0% of the previous hour's usage during peak load times, to help them meet peak demand without adding new capacity. The program I'm on only takes effect in the summer. They installed the thermostat for me, and I think (they never say exactly) that it uses a pager style radio to get the message to cut back the a/c. I'm interested to see how it works out - we don't really care about a few degree rise on the hottest days.

  • by Zanth_ (157695) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:45PM (#31963966)

    It seems like a convenient method of limiting brown-outs. The privacy implications may be enormous for some but for others it will appear to be a good idea particularly since folks can override the system.

    • by deep_creek (1001191) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:49PM (#31963998)
      wonder what the surcharge charge/penalty fee is for overriding the setting?
    • by notommy (1793412) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:53PM (#31964024)

      What exactly are your enormous privacy concerns? This already exists here in toronto. This works well. The truth is, when they raise the temperature in your ac for a period of time, you don't notice it because the temperature change in your home is not instantaneous. By the time you notice the small change, if you do at all, it'll be back to your original setting.

      The blurb makes it sound sinister IMo with stuff like "under their control". They're just trying to control the peaks so everyone has power.

      • by tnok85 (1434319)
        Toronto... Toronto... so is that a small town just outside of Phoenix? I can't think of a Toronto where you can die from heat exhaustion.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by valdezjuan (83925)

        Just thinking about this briefly, I can think of at least one concern (though not directly related to privacy). Power companies (at least in the US) have shown that they are unable to secure their infrastructure. So allowing them to 'control' your settings *might* be allowing an attacker to do the same (or worse).

    • by b0bby (201198)

      If it's like my system, the thermostat gets a radio signal to turn itself down. I don't think there's a privacy implication, I'd bet the only way they'd know if you overrode it is that your power usage would increase. I imagine that they're betting that most people won't actually override it; I can't see myself bothering, if I even noticed it.

  • by russotto (537200) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:47PM (#31963984) Journal

    Your "peak periods" will correspond quite well with when it's 110 degrees in the shade... exactly when you want the AC the most.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Gertlex (722812)

      It'll also be the middle of the day. For quite a large number of residential locations, the home will be empty. Doesn't matter if the house gets a bit warm while you're not there... If you're there, override it!

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Necron69 (35644)

        I'm guessing you've never owned a poorly designed, older home.

        My old house had to be kept at 72F at all times, or the AC simply could not keep up. Once the inside temp was allowed to creep up even a few degrees, the AC would just run non-stop until it froze solid. Then you had to turn it off, open the windows, and live with 90+ degree inside temps until you could crank up the AC again the next morning.

        I'm sure there are all sorts of expensive, technical solutions to this problem, but at the time, it was far

        • by Clover_Kicker (20761) <clover_kicker@yahoo.com> on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:55PM (#31964448)

          I'm sure there are all sorts of expensive, technical solutions to this problem

          Insulation?

          Caulking?

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by AK Marc (707885)
            I grew up in a 1950s house in TX with that problem. There were single pane windows in every window. There was no insulation under the floors. There was insufficient insulation in the walls and the attic. There were large cracks in the brick house, and no house wrap (Tyvek or such, invented after the house was built and not used extensively until much more recently).

            The cost of getting that house to a 5-star energy rating would probably have been more than bulldozing it and putting up a pre-fab house of
      • Doesn't matter if the house gets a bit warm while you're not there...

        True of people, not necessarily true of pets.

        • by Gertlex (722812)

          Ya, realized this afterward. (e.g. read other comments...)

          Still, for the people without pets :)...

      • It'll also be the middle of the day. For quite a large number of residential locations, the home will be empty.

        And some large number will also have pets, that get to suffer.

        Do you also leave your dog in the car with the windows rolled up? That's a crime, but it's OK when the power company does it for you I guess.

    • If this were used for recharging Chevy Volts, or cooling deep freezers.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by michaelhood (667393)

        If this were used for recharging Chevy Volts, or cooling deep freezers.

        Don't you know? When you use the grid to charge an electric vehicle, the power company can recognize this and uses jellybean fields and unicorn wheels to generate the power.

  • Right... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by cephalien (529516) <benjaminlungerNO@SPAMgmail.com> on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:47PM (#31963986)

    Because when it's 104 degrees in Arizona, the people trialing this system will be content to let the power company turn their A/C down.

    No, what'll happen is that all the people enrolled will just override the suggested settings, meaning that they'll have spent the money and still end up having brownouts.

    I don't see this as being a smart move from -any- standpoint, unless you marketed it as a way for the power company to turn down the A/C units of homeowners who might not -be- at home during a peak time, but have left their systems running.

    Having said that, anyone with pets will tell you that it can get hot enough that they need to be cooled-off too.

    • by timmarhy (659436)
      a lot of the time people set their AC to 19c, when 23c is just as comfortable but will save shit loads of power if everyone does it. as long as you can just override this with your normal air con remote i don't see a problem
    • by AHuxley (892839)
      What can a utility do?
      Suburbia is filled with older, low end, low efficiency units.
      If they fail, they might be replaced with new, low cost, no "brand", low efficiency units.
      The feds could set strict new minimum energy performance numbers for any AC units sold/installed/imported in the US. The press would note how the poor people suffer and rust belt manufactures lobby hard in marginal electorates.
      Think "Obamacooling" with Fox outside an overflowing morgue, "capitalism was not allowed to offer "freedom
    • Because when it's 104 degrees in Arizona, the people trialing this system will be content to let the power company turn their A/C down.

      No, what'll happen is that all the people enrolled will just override the suggested settings, meaning that they'll have spent the money and still end up having brownouts.

      ... provided they're all home. Since it tends to hit 104 in the middle of the day, a large percentage - even the majority - are at work. If even half the population isn't home to override the settings, this will save a ton of money.

  • Look.... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Darkness404 (1287218) on Friday April 23, 2010 @10:53PM (#31964020)
    Look, if I'm paying for power, in a government granted monopoly (as most power companies are) I'd better be able to use it how I wish, while paying for it with a reasonable fee based on what I use. If they can't provide what I'm paying for they should either A) Improve the service, B) allow other competitors C) be sued by their "customers". If we had -choice- in power companies, this might not be so bad, but sure, we have an override button in 2010... but in 2020 will we?

    It is the most basic of rights to be able to use what you pay for. In many cases, if you don't like what a company wants you to do, you have action, you can A) change to a competitor or B) go without it. If I don't like Sony's policies on firmware updates for the PS3, I can just as easily buy a 360, Wii, or even decide not to buy a game console. But when it comes to electricity, theres no other providers and its just about impossible to go without electricity in 2010 (even most Amish will have electricity in their outbuildings).
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Bullshit.

      You CAN go off grid. If I lived Arizona, I'd totally slap a couple of solar panels on my roof and hook those up to the AC. Don't give me this whiny "oh, but they have a monooooooooopoly" tripe. It's only a monopoly if you're too lazy or cheap to use the alternative energy sources. Especially not in a prime solar location.
      • by Kral_Blbec (1201285) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @12:30AM (#31964596)
        You got a spare 30k to put down for that? Or are you just talking out of your ass?
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by QuantumRiff (120817)

          Most states, in addition to rebates and grants ( and federal ones) will give you extremely low interest loans.

          So that 30k system ends up costing you about $15k over 7-10 years, or $150 - $200 a month. Then, you have basically no more utility bill, ever. (and still have 18 years of warranty on your solar panels...)

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by raygundan (16760)

          After all the tax credits and such, our 7kW system was about $8k in Arizona. It makes about $1300/year in power at present electric rates, and has a 25-year warranty. If you can afford it, it's beats the living crap out of putting your money in a CD, even assuming we could get something more like historical CD rates these days.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by stabiesoft (733417)

      Before you piss all over the idea, consider which you would prefer. You can either A) pay 2X as much for juice during peak time so the utility can afford to have enough peak capacity or B) let the utility come up with some creative ways to reduce peak demand, such as cutting the A/C for about 5 minutes every 30 if they need to. (I think that is austin energy's method) Further, Austin Energy does not require you to install their thermostat, they will give you a free one if you do want theirs.

      Clearly, you pre

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by evilviper (135110)

      It is the most basic of rights to be able to use what you pay for.

      You aren't paying for it, though. You're charged a fee, which very likely doesn't cover the costs of delivery. And it certainly doesn't remotely cover what they would have had to pay for right-of-way access without the government monopoly status...

      You see, there are plenty of people out there who need electricity, and CAN'T pay the fair-market value of it. Saying you should be able to do whatever you want with it is simply saying you want

    • by ffflala (793437)

      Look, if I'm paying for power, in a government granted monopoly (as most power companies are) I'd better be able to use it how I wish, while paying for it with a reasonable fee based on what I use....

      It is the most basic of rights to be able to use what you pay for.... when it comes to electricity, theres no other providers and its just about impossible to go without electricity in 2010 (even most Amish will have electricity in their outbuildings).

      How absurd to claim that as a "most basic of rights". You are certainly free to spend your money to create your own power sources. Don't have enough money to build your own power plants? Then you simply cannot *afford* unlimited access to power.

      Power is a limited resource. It needs to be generated, and distributed among communities. The reality is that sometimes your unnecessarily cool AC will cause grids to lose power to more basic and necessary appliances, like lights and fridges.

      And please. Many Amish ba

      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        Problem being, even if he did have the money to build his own power plant he still would most likely not be able to due to government regulations prohibiting it.

    • by chgros (690878)

      Did you miss that part?
      Customers will be able to override these settings if they desire

      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        That is until they are proven to work and there is new regulation passed to disable the customer override. Give an inch, they take a mile. Or give a second amendment they'll take a first.

    • by drolli (522659)

      Look. Its a simple equation. The power plants hae to be dimensioned to the maximum consumption. The difference between maximum and average over the time the technology have to be available at a certain level is unused and has to be paid by the customers. If you can spread the 2h peak of air conditioning to lets say a 6h peak of one third the peak height, you may have reduce the unused power capacity by a factor of three.

      Sounds good for the customer, doesn't it? Prices which are lower off-season or at times

  • by Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:03PM (#31964092)

    It would create jobs... and energy...

    Sounds like a GREAT FUCKING IDEA TO ME.

    • by mrmeval (662166)

      The local electric company Duke Energy already does that in Indiana. If you agree to allow them to install the cut off they can stop your AC for a time. They PAY THE CONSUMER to do this a monthly fee even if they never turn off your AC. I think it's a few hundred dollars a year.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by MattskEE (925706)

      It's a good idea but it solves a slightly different problem.

      Nuclear plants are base load. This air conditioning throttling system, which is in use already in many power markets, helps the power companies minimize the peak load, a large portion of which comes from a bunch of workers across an entire region coming home and turning on the A/C. The power from peaking generators which can turn on and off quickly like gas turbines is necessary to avoid brownouts and blackouts from this variable load condition.

      A

  • Works well in Iowa (Score:2, Informative)

    by rm_-fr_* (107567)

    I've been in this program in central Iowa for 6 years. Has been no real pain and I get about a $40 check each year for the times they throttle me...

    • the times they throttle me...

      If your power company is throttling you, someone is either getting too much or not enough service out of their current electricity provider.

      That, or there's yet another Iowa joke in there that I just haven't come up with yet.

  • by DarkKnightRadick (268025) <the_spoon.geo@yahoo.com> on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:15PM (#31964186) Homepage Journal

    Instead of trying to control individual ACs like this, they should be giving out massive credits to those who go to the expense of installing solar. Even where it won't pay for itself in a reasonable amount of time, installing solar panels will make a difference (probably not so much so in places like Seattle). I would imagine that if you could get 10% of the homes in the nation (even if you were just to do that in So Cal and Arizona and other perpetually sunny places) the relief on the grid would be enormous. With advances in solar cells, combining solar and hydrogen fuel storage/use [physorg.com], and other alternative energy technologies (wind, for example) there should be no problem in providing enough power.

    The real problem is that the grid is ancient (relatively) and uses old, broken tech. Unfortunately the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" doesn't apply when you are pushing outdated technology way past its limits.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by psycho12345 (1134609)
      Umm most places already do give gigantic tax rebates, or straight up rebates on solar installations. Still too expensive for the average household. Not to mention I imagine most place would benefit from other upgrades before solar, such as better insulation, better windows, etc.
  • Idaho power opted for something far simpler several years ago. An exterior radio controlled override that cuts off the compressor motor (most of the load) for a maximum of 15 minutes while leaving your interior blower motor running. You don't notice a thing. If you happen to have two AC units they are alternated. This allows for much simpler peak load control of the power grid and doesn't torch off the customers.
  • Hell, my parents have had a using a system like this since 1997, and they can't even override it. Granted, they get a discount on their electric bill. However, I'm going to guess that increasing rates hasn't worked and too many roadbloacks, for instance: regulatory, judicial, economic, and otherwise make building a new generating facilities not worth it. It also probably doesn't make sense to do when you've got several million people who have enough money to not have to care about using the set back feat

  • by nufrosty (1569835) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:33PM (#31964312)
    You get a $25 rebate and a thermostat/switch, and they get to control your AC to adjust your temperature by 2-3 degrees. They cap the number of times the are allowed to do it at 10 times/year.

    When can peaksaver be activated? on weekdays (Monday through Friday), most likely between 12:00p.m. to 6:00p.m. from May 1 to September 30. Never on weekends or holidays. for a maximum of ten activations during the summer and only for a total of four hours during any one activation. As an example; in 2008, the peaksaver program was activated only five times.

    http://everykilowattcounts.ca/residential/peaksaver/understanding-electricity-demand.php [everykilowattcounts.ca]
  • We have this going on already. The apartment complex where I live opted everyone in. The choice to override the system is not one of going and hitting a button but one of calling the power company and opting back out. That might not be the same as this article but that's not really the point.

    The real significance with the setup we have is that it's meant to replace rolling blackouts in that, instead of a full blackout, they will do rolling AC shutoffs instead. This is the first year we'll have it in pla

  • Power 101 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by stox (131684) on Friday April 23, 2010 @11:35PM (#31964338) Homepage

    Roughly, the first 90% of the load cost is X, the next 9 to 10% cost is 10X. If you need to buy a remaining 1% on the spot market during a squeeze, the remaining 1% will cost 100X.

    Being able to shed that top 1% can make a big difference.

  • by jeko (179919) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @12:32AM (#31964620)

    It'll be voluntary today.

    It'll be mandatory tomorrow.

    If they weren't planning on making it mandatory, they wouldn't do it in the first place.

    Seen it a billion times.

  • My old water heater had a label on it that said something like "This device is controlled by SRP" or something to that effect. I got the impression it was radio controlled. I cannot find any information on this old program in Arizona. The previous owners of our house were pretty weird so they might have been beta testers or something. Anyone know anything about this?
  • Here in Utah, Rocky Mountain Power offers a similar program (called "Cool Keeper"). They apparently recently tried to introduce legislation that would make the device mandatory for all new customers unless the customer knew of the program and specifically opted out in advance. And to my knowledge, there isn't any limit on RMP's activations like some other utilities have implemented, nor can the customer override the switch. I hope Arizona's system is more forgiving than that. Plus, I'm pretty sure RMP woul
  • I guess one way to opt out would involve installing a couple of window A/C units for key rooms. They don't have to actually be in a window, or even visible. Some ducting and a remote control and you're set. If the power companies really want people to use relatively inefficient window units over more efficient central air systems, so be it.

  • by ari_j (90255)
    Trial is a noun, not a verb. It's the noun that refers to the act of trying something. To quote Old Biff, you sound like a damn fool when you say it wrong.
  • by Animats (122034) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @02:14AM (#31965102) Homepage

    Residential systems usually don't have heat storage, but larger systems, with chilled water, often do. Some even make ice at night when power is cheap, to be melted during the day. It would be helpful to have a few hours advance notice of a hot period, so that the system could chill down an insulated water tank for use later.

    Power companies generally have a load curve planned a day ahead. That info is available; here's PJM's dashboard [pjm.com], which tells you far more than you ever wanted to know about the power grid for the northeastern United States. (Load right now: 55,292 megawatts. 1,896 megawatts of that is wind power. Spinning reserves are 2,274 MW. Current trouble report: "As of 09:30 hours, a Non-Market Post Contingency Local Load Relief Warning of 11 MW in the Rachel Hill area of FE (PN) has been issued for Transmission Contingency Control. Post Contingency Switching: Open Roxbury at Shadegap, Close Threesprings at Shadegap, open Curryville at Claysburg, open Snakespring at Bedford North." Tomorrow's estimated peak is around 71 gigawatts, expected at 17:30 hours.) The estimation system uses historical data and weather reports, plus bid info from really big users. So one can plan a day ahead if your HVAC system has heat storage.

    Routine control is exercised by financial means - all the players submit bids, which have a time range, a low output and price, a high output and price, and a ramp value. The control center crunches on these and decides who generates how much power. Large power buyers can bid, too; they have the option of saying how much they'll cut their load as the price rises. A big data center might choose to be a market player. When there are troubles, the control center can take "non-market actions", like the one above, but most of the time, the outstanding bids determine who does what.

    California went too far in deregulation, and had electricity auctions every half hour at one point. There were brokers and dealers who were pure speculators, and this affected live power operations in real time. That caused so much churn that there were blackouts. So now, bids are for a day ahead, and the matching of supply and demand is algorithmic. All this data is public, to keep the markets honest. That's why PJM offers such detailed data about their power grid.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Vegeta99 (219501)

      That's funny. The last emergency message given, that you quoted, is for the area I'm posting from. Considering the general lack of life and/or economic activity in the area, I would like to know where the hell 11 megawatts is ending up.

      • by Animats (122034) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @03:36AM (#31965370) Homepage

        That message just means that, due to some problem, the power grid as currently configured was one failure away from having to drop 11MW of load. This occurs when a line in the transmission system is out of service, and the remaining lines are carrying the load, but there's no redundancy. So orders are issued to close certain switches and open others, or to start up additional generators, so that the system is reconfigured to again allow for any single failure. PJM's control center is announcing, as a warning, who potentially gets dumped if they lose another resource. The area mentioned is not necessarily the cause of the problem. Actual load dumps are very rare; I think the last one in the PJM control areas was in 1997.

        For Slashdot readers, it's like bringing a replacement disk on line when a RAID disk system loses a disk. The RAID system is still working, but there's now a single point of failure until a new drive is switched in.

  • by Izeickl (529058) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @06:05AM (#31965888) Homepage
    Jesus I cant believe how many people seem to leave aircon on during the day while at work etc, what exactly is the reason for this?? I am a UK expat living in Thailand...Thailand gets extremely hot and pushes 100% humidity regularly so aircon is wonderful however I only ever cool rooms im actually using and only when people are in the house, as does everyone else I know... If you cant stand being hot for even 30 mins while the rooms cool down can you not at least put things on timers to cool it before you get home from work??
    • by SmallFurryCreature (593017) on Saturday April 24, 2010 @09:54AM (#31966740) Journal

      I know that as a UK resident you might believe you are part of the US but you are not... yet.

      Anyway, there is a reason US citizens consume more then anyone else on this planet. It is a culture defined by entitlement. I can have the largest car, so I must have it and then I must use it.

      I can have an airco, therefor everything must be airco'ed and it must run all the time.

      An American really can't even deal with the notion that there might be something wrong with this attitude. Watch Mythbusters and their constant search for fuel efficiency in a 3 ton pickup with 1 person in it and no cargo. How about driving a smaller car? Oh, they do entire segments on how they get smashed between two trucks driving at top speed. No test of course if the results would be any different with a SUV (Answer: no, SUV's only share the fuel efficiency with tanks, not safety).

      And the solution is terribly simple, pay more for your elec so that more power facilities can be built. But that is not an option either because all the profits go to shareholder, not into investments for the future.

      It is an amusing system, you got Americans claiming they are the most advanced country, when large parts of the country regularly brown-out. California has had it for years, and no riots yet. When your electricity network is as reliable as one in Africa, maybe it is time to take a long hard look at the way you are running thing.

      Don't worry, some American with mod points will remove this post to avoid to many Americans having to be upset by the truth.

What this country needs is a good five cent microcomputer.

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