A California company known for its residential energy management systems has announced it is collaborating with a provider of building energy solutions and a solar technology company to modernize energy infrastructure and provide support to the power grid.
OhmConnect is an Oakland-based group that creates grid-connected homes to leverage energy storage, solar power, heating, cooling, and ventilation technology, and smart thermostats. The company on March 31 said it is joining SunPower Corp. and Carrier in a venture that will allow customers using SunPower’s and Carrier’s solutions to access OhmConnect’s gamified user experience, which enables customers to be rewarded for managing their electricity use during peak usage periods, mitigating impacts to the grid.
The collaborations announced Thursday will expand OhmConnect’s energy platform to a network of millions of grid-responsive devices, according to the company. OhmConnect said it builds on a partnership with Google announced last year, in which OhmConnect users in California with Google’s Nest thermostats were incentivized to reduce energy consumption during peak demand hours.
That program built on OhmConnect’s work in a virtual power plant project developed in partnership with Sidewalk Infrastructure Partners. OhmConnect on Thursday said its energy management system currently integrates with appliances and other devices from 30 different companies and manufacturers. The company serves customers of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Southern California Edison (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) in California, as well as Con Edison in New York.
Residential Sector ‘Critical’ for Decarbonization
Cisco DeVries, CEO of OhmConnect, told POWER the residential sector is “really critical” to the decarbonization of the larger economy. DeVries said, “We cannot transition to a zero-carbon electric grid successfully if we do not have flexible electricity demand in homes.” He said his company continues to look for collaborations such as the one announced today, between companies that provide power generation equipment and appliances for the residential sector.
Carrier, founded in 1902, is a world leader in heating, cooling, and refrigeration systems. SunPower has provided residential and commercial solar power systems since 1985.
Heating and cooling systems account for most of the residential electricity load in the U.S., according to the Energy Information Administration. The new collaboration with OhmConnect means that customers who are part of Carrier’s installed base will be better able to manage their power demand, supporting grid reliability and lowering energy costs.
“We are in fact a full virtual power plant under the state of California’s approvals,” said DeVries. “OhmConnect doesn’t have a physical plant, and it doesn’t generate power. But as long as we can dispatch those energy reductions with the same level of predictability as a power plant, we can operate as a virtual power plant—and in California, we are the largest virtual power plant by far. We provide almost 200 MW of power reduction.”
By joining with SunPower, OhmConnect is expanding what it calls the “ecosystem of homes” that can leverage the energy they generate to help stabilize the power grid. Through the collaboration, SunPower’s solar and SunVault energy storage customers will have the option to participate with the OhmConnect platform. Participants will receive incentives to automatically dispatch energy reserves to the grid during peak demand times. The program also creates “a scalable way to impact grid reliability, while enabling homeowners to save even more money on their systems and energy bills,” according to OhmConnect.
“In California, we’ve had some pretty significant growth of solar,” DeVries said. “When the state of California’s peak electricity demand was in the middle of the day, the majority of that need could be met by renewables. But now our peak generation need is at 7 or 8 o’clock at night. That peak can reach 50 GW, and it’s right when we don’t have the best solar production. That peak is often 65% to 70% residential demand at that time, and to maintain a stable grid, we’ve got to able to flex that demand.
“Simply put, our electric grid is vulnerable to failure just when we need it the most,” said DeVries. “Blackouts have increased dramatically as our aging grid infrastructure faces climate change, increasing demand, and the transition to zero carbon. This is a challenge that all of us can actually get paid to help solve. I am very excited to have world-leading partners, like SunPower and Carrier, join our team to connect homes to the clean energy revolution, and I look forward to seeing our clean energy network grow exponentially.”
Network of Integrated Energy Solutions
The companies on Thursday said expanding the network of integrated energy solutions “is increasingly important as extreme weather events and wildfires make blackouts more common.” The process also is a way for energy providers to adhere to new federal regulations that require the integration of battery storage and other distributed energy resources, services that are being implemented by grid operators across the U.S.
“By integrating SunPower’s solar solutions with OhmConnect, homeowners can supercharge their home’s energy earning potential while creating a more resilient grid,” said Shawn Fitzgerald, vice president of Corporate Development at SunPower. “SunPower and OhmConnect share the beliefs that accessing renewable energy and participating in solutions that make energy more reliable should be accessible and easy. Our investment in OhmConnect and the work we are doing together directly reflects our mission to change the way our world is powered.”
“At Carrier, we’re focused on investments in sustainable innovations and disruptive technologies. With our residential heating and cooling units installed across the country, teaming up with OhmConnect will enable more households to adjust their cooling in response to stress on the grid,” said Jennifer Anderson, Chief Sustainability Officer for Carrier. “It’s a win-win for our customers and the planet, allowing them to save money and reduce energy usage and emissions—a shared goal of both companies.”
SunPower and Carrier also have invested in OhmConnect through the company’s latest funding round. OhmConnect last year received a $3 million grant from the California Energy Commission, with the funds directed to supporting the power grid and reducing energy costs for low-income families.
DeVries said his company’s work could provide a background for “smart” communities, which are being developed with support from utilities. A neighborhood developed by Alabama Power was honored with a POWER Top Plant Award in 2020.
“The electrification movement is a critical step toward decarbonizing the economy. But it actually only works if we connect these smart devices to perform grid services,” DeVries said. “What we’re moving toward is a much more dynamic environment. You should always have access to electricity, and you should always be able to control it. With a smart community, the value of that is in all the transmission you don’t have to build or upgrade. Hopefully the utilities will properly support and pay for that. It’s a huge advantage for them.”
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).