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Energy Box – development and implementation of a demand responsive energy management system

Title: Energy Box – development and implementation of a demand responsive energy management system

Coordinator: Carlos Henggeler Antunes

Dates start/end: October 2010 / October 2013

Entity: FCT (MIT/SET/0018/2009)

Participating Institutions: IPCDVS UC, MIT ESD

Synopsis: The implementation of demand-sensitive pricing schemes is a proven strategy for an industry to provide more service within capacity constraints of the current service system infrastructure, thus postponing or avoiding huge capital expenses. The ongoing transformation of electric grids into “smart grids” provides the basis to implement demand-sensitive pricing aimed at using the electric power infrastructure more efficiently. This creates benefits for the end-users (by lowering their electricity bill without degrading comfort levels), the operators (by managing the peak and flattening the aggregate demand curve, which may permit to meet forecasted demand growth with the current portfolio of generation sources) and the environment (by avoiding building new generation units). In this context of migration to smart grids demand-sensitive pricing of electricity will become the standard pricing mechanism. Therefore, it is necessary to make the most of short-term price signals, comfort requirements and user preferences to induce changes in electricity-consuming behavior. In this context, the aim of this project is to further develop and implement in practice the concept of Energy Box proposed by Livengood and Larson (2009) as a 24/7 background processor operating on a local computer or in a remote location to manage in an intelligent manner, that is, responding to price signals, comfort requirements, etc., one’s home or small business electrical energy use. The Energy Box is thus an energy management system consisting of a hardware device and algorithms coordinating in an autonomous manner the management of electricity use, storage and selling back to the grid for the typical small consumer of electricity in the residential and services / industrial sectors. This is an automated energy management system that mimics the individual consumer’s decision making process under the same conditions (of the grid, in-door comfort and air quality, occupancy patterns, weather, etc.). The Energy Box will exploit the flexibility that consumers generally have in the timing of their electricity usage to induce changes in their electricity-consuming patterns through time-varying electricity pricing (which can range from simple time-of-use rates to actual real-time pricing) to achieve a total system optimal control. This becomes feasible with the “smart grid” infrastructure, including two-way communication and short-interval meter reading, complemented with sensor networks in one’ home or small business. This project aims further to incorporate analytical methods and develop adequate algorithms, namely based on operations research techniques for decision support, to produce a learning, adaptive version of the Energy Box that has the capability to address both usability and user-engagement issues. Usability is perceived as going beyond having a good human-machine interface and includes requiring minimal information input or intervention from the user while causing minimal or no disruption to the user’s activity or work processes. User-engagement refers to both the frequency and the degree to which users are engaged in and utilize a system. An innovative stance in this project will be to include researchers on cognitive psychology to study crucial issues regarding the dissemination and degree of use, perceived as the level of enthusiasm and ardor with which the user deploys and uses the Energy Box including his/her willingness to leave decisions to switch on/off electric appliances providing him/her energy services with a certain level of comfort to a device (although this is parameterized with his/her input information). It is expected to develop, in association with a company with expertise in this domain, a prototype (both hardware and software) capable of controlling a space-conditioning facility in the home or small office.