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Consumer-driven automation for smartening the grid

Consumers are expected to play a considerable greater role in smart grid deployment and it is
crucial to boost their awareness of this more active role. Smart grid is a great opportunity for all
consumers, whose involvement in demand side management will significantly speed up the
development of a smart grid market. The way the energy is used has to be revolutionised and, to
actualize that, consumers need to understand what benefits they will achieve and how to change
their behaviour to gain those benefits. All the players in the electricity system need to learn how to
engage and effectively educate consumers, and improve their trust. We do not know the best way
to make this happen yet, but we do know the highly negative impact of inadequate consumer
engagement on future deployment plans. Thus, control solutions and automation systems for
demand side management necessitate taking consumers into account, their preferences, their
needs and uncertainty in their behaviour.
The next-generation electric grid needs to be smart and sustainable to deal with the explosive
growth of global energy demand and achieve environmental goals. To effectively smarten the grid
we need to rethink the roles and responsibilities of all players in the electricity system. This
smartening is a progressive and revolutionary process (Figure 1). However different settings will be
around the world and deployed at different rates, the use of information and communications
technology to monitor and actively control generation and demand in near real-time is indisputably a
common feature [1, 2]. Therefore, control and automation are essential for enabling consumers to
actively support the grid.

Figure 1. Smarter electricity systems (source: IEA, 2011)


The increased control over the network can enable a wider, more sophisticated range of smart
methods and innovative schemes, such as demand response and smart energy management
systems for buildings, to facilitate local management of demand and generation. Demand response
includes both manual and automated consumer response, smart appliances and thermostats, which
are able to respond to price signals, or carbon-based signals. These smart devices are connected
to an energy management system or controlled directly by the utility or a system operator. Smart
energy management systems for buildings need to incorporate the user into the design and thus be
responsive to their occupants in order to improve their comfort and allow smart appliances and
heating systems to be on the market and respond to price signals to help decreasing the electricity
bills. The benefits for consumers can be diverse, e.g., reduction of the electricity bill, improving of
living conditions, supporting a more environmentally friendly energy behaviour [3].
In particular, smart energy management systems are required to be able to [1, 2]:
 respond to signals from the grid and take action on this basis (e.g., decreasing energy use
when prices are high or automatically shifting consumption to times when prices are lower);

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 manage local generation facilities, such as solar panels, and fed back into the grid any
energy ;
 optimally schedule storage devices, which can be used to balance out the smart grid.

Those advanced and innovative energy management systems make buildings smart and we can
claim that a smart grid cannot exist without smart buildings. Hence, there will be more and more
active roles for consumers of different sizes to play in a smart grid, for instance:
 Residential consumers can choose among different tariff schemes and optimally shift smart
appliance demand away from peak times through smart meters and energy management
systems;
 Industrial and commercial consumers can participate in the energy market through a wide
range of demand response schemes;
 Generator owners can participate in demand response schemes and the market by
supplying needed energy to the grid.

Novel control and automation systems are becoming quite widespread, although standardised
solutions are still not available, which means that expensive tailored configuration are required [3].
This clearly limits the engagement of consumers, in particular small-scale consumers. In addition to
designing and deploying control and communication solutions more affordable to a wider range of
consumers’ sizes, effective motivational factors must be explored and thoroughly examined (e.g.,
environmental concerns, better comfort, control over electricity bills). The risk here is that
consumers who do not make the savings expected from their behavioural change might consider
the whole experience disappointing and frustrating.

Accurate, systematic and methodical research and evaluation are still needed to identify the optimal
methodology to understand better the interaction between consumers and energy market, as well
as the effect of enabling technologies for smart grid deployment.
A persistent behavioural change is vital to effectively enable smart energy technology development.
We still need an answer to the following questions [1, 2]:
 Is there an optimal mix of behavioural change, consumer feedback and automation
technologies?
 How much customer education is required and what are the best approaches?
 Which types of automated demand response schemes are most useful to different types of
customers (residential, commercial, industrial)?
Research groups, along with industry and governments, need to design and test more consumer-
focused control solutions that can foster large-scale consumer behaviour change.
References
[1] Smart Grid Vision and Routemap, Department of Energy & Climate Change, Ofgem, February 2014
[2] Technology Roadmap, Smart Grids, International Energy Agency, 2011
[3] Vision for Smart Grid Control: 2030 and Beyond, (Eds. M. Amin, A.M. Annaswamy, C. De Marco, and T.
Samad), IEEE Standards Publication, 2013.