Leap, Google Nest Using Automation for Demand Response

Utilities have offered demand response programs for years, in many cases offering rebates or other compensation to customers willing to allow the utility to reduce their household or business power consumption at certain times of the day.

Other companies are moving forward with their own programs, seeking a piece of the growing market for automation of heating, cooling, and other systems in residential and commercial and industrial settings.

Leap, a San Francisco, California-based company which provides a universal distributed energy exchange and enables real-time automated trading on energy markets, and Google Nest, whose Nest thermostats are part of the company’s product line for home automation, recently partnered on a program that provides automated, flexible demand capacity to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). CAISO oversees the operation of California’s electric power system, including the power generation and transmission market of its member utilities.

Leap has integrated with Google Nest’s Rush Hour Rewards program, which allows electricity customers in Northern California to enroll their Nest thermostats into a turnkey platform. Customers with the Nest Hub, which Leap is offering as a reward for enrollment in the program, have the ability to control Google Assistant-connected devices by voice or at pre-set times.

Leap in a news release said it is “actively leveraging Nest smart thermostat loads to meet real-time electricity demand in California. The loads represent a portion of the demand response capacity awarded to Leap in the California Demand Response Auction Mechanism (DRAM) in June 2018.” Google Nest is joining several other partners in the Leap Exchange, which includes businesses involved with agriculture and other commercial enterprises, along with battery storage, thermal storage, electric vehicle charging companies, and more.

“Google Nest is an excellent partner to have as we continue our efforts to deliver much-needed flexible capacity in California. Their decision to join the Leap Exchange is a wonderful example of using today’s increasingly smart and responsive appliances as assets that benefit the grid as a whole,” said Thomas Folker, CEO of Leap, in a news release. “Our combination of simple integration and automated trading capabilities make it easy for the company to deploy a turnkey tool for participation in California’s wholesale energy market while remaining focused on its core mission of delivering quality energy-saving solutions to its customers.”

The Leap Exchange is an open platform that allows fully automated, real-time trading of energy resources on wholesale markets. “Together with Nest, we are enabling a grid that utilizes all of its assets, large and small, to meet demand in a dynamic and more efficient manner,” Folker said. “We look forward to working with more partners like Google Nest as we prepare for expansion into new energy markets across the country … markets that face a similar need for a platform like ours which helps smart, connected devices add flexibility and resiliency to the grid.”

Hannah Bascom, head of energy partnerships at Google, in a recent interview with POWER at the Edison Electric Institute’s annual convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, said her team in the Devices and Services Group at Google is all about “consumer programs, partnering with utilities to meet their goals with customer engagements and retail partnerships.”

Google today makes application programming interfaces available to utility developers, who have taken work Google has done over the years with utility and energy partners. “It’s been a journey,” Bascom said. “When we first started, there were a lot of skeptics. Now the utility industry is adopting new consumer technology, enabling customers to connect with utilities to understand their energy usage. We want utilities to have the power to engage customers with very simple programs.” Bascom said utilities have always wanted customized development, and using Google’s utility program allows for next-generation customer engagement.

Energy providers now can work with platforms such as Tendril—which in July merged with Simple Energy to create Uplight—to quickly deliver personalized bill, usage, and insights to customers over Google Assistant-enabled devices. Indiana Michigan Power, part of American Electric Power, earlier this year was announced as the first utility to work with Tendril to offer this functionality.

“We’ve built a lot of partnerships, and utilities are looking at partnerships,” said Bascom. “They key is going to be to connect all the loads in a house” as the trend toward home automation continues. Bascom said that could include not only appliances but also charging stations for electric vehicles. “It can all be part of a demand response program.”

Added Bascom: “The utilities have a big role in this. It’s real power for all consumers. Utilities are building out new use cases, and they are championing adoption.”

Darrell Proctor is a POWER associate editor (@DarrellProctor1, @POWERmagazine).