Integrating prosumers into the electricity grid: the interplay between technology and people

Yael Parag. Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya

In the era of renewable and decentralized energy systems, prosumers are becoming crucial as they provide a set of valuable prosuming services to the grid. These services include not only microgeneration (Megawatts), but also demand reduction (Negawatts), load shifting (Flexiwatss) and energy storage (Storewatts). How to best integrate, harness and maximize these services for the benefit of society and the prosumers themselves remains a challenge.

For many years policymakers focused on energy saving and promoted Negawatts via raising consumer awareness to their energy consumption. Millions have been invested in developing and distributing sophisticated energy monitors and displays, smartphone apps, websites and calculators. Behavioral economic insights, such as comparison to others or to previous consumption, have been widely applied to energy bills. These immense efforts resulted in various levels of energy savings, many of which were not sustained over time and often relied on consumers’ pro-environmental values. At the same time, appliance efficiency improved dramatically due to regulation and market transformation, resulting in longer lasting yet nearly effortless (behavior-wise) savings.

In the future it is likely that the provisioning of decentralized Flexiwatts and Storewatts will become more crucial for the resilience of the energy system and the security of energy services.

In my paper I argue that a promising strategy to encourage the provisioning of such prosuming services may not be the common approaches of raising awareness, improving visibility, or promoting pro-environmental values, but rather making them as fully automated, invisible, seamless, effortless and unnoticed as possible. In particular, seamless automation, such as smart home energy management systems and smart appliances (e.g., IoT), allows continuous interaction with the electricity grid and an ongoing reshaping of demand and supply profiles, which enable lowering energy costs, integrating renewables and distributed storage, as well as reducing peak demand.  However, while many smart technologies are readily available, to promote seamless integration and automated DR, we need to better understanding the various interplays between variables and parameters such as demand flexibility, energy practices, trust in technology, trust in institutions, risk perception, values and beliefs.

Insights about these interplays and about barriers and opportunities for integrating prosuming services into the electricity grid will be illustrated with findings from three different studies that took place in Israel during 2016-2017 and two ongoing field studies in Israel and Europe:

1.     A survey of a population-representative sample about perceptions of, and attitudes toward providing prosuming services to the grid  (in particular demand reduction, demand response, storage in electric vehicles).
2.     A survey of the non-technophobic population about interest in automated demand response in the smart home environment.
3.    A survey of large households (4+) that explored the interest in signing in to Time of Use (ToU) tariffs as a function of the mode of presentation (framing), the discount rate, the perceived demand flexibility and environmental values.
4.     An ongoing project aiming to reduce summer peak demand in two Israeli local communities.  In this project electricity consumption is monitored via smart meters.
5.     An ongoing Horizon2020 funded project aiming to reduce household electricity demand using smart meters and smart communication in France and Austria.

Although most of the studies reported here focus on the Israeli public and context, an understanding of obstacles and opportunities for integrating prosuming services to the grid is of great relevance to other wealthy, developed countries searching for policies to promote energy system decarburization and decentralization via the deployment of intermittent energy resources.

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