Money Talks: California residents earn big bucks for easing grid strain


OhmConnect paid out more than $300,000 to its California residential demand response users when temperatures soared last Friday, a day in which the company’s virtual power plant supplied more than 200 MWh to California’s grid by harnessing the power of its fleet of energy-saving homes and smart devices across the state.

“Since California’s energy crisis started last Thursday, OhmConnect has dispatched over 500,000 automated device events, including smart plugs, WiFi thermostats, and storage to help stabilize the grid,” Cisco DeVries, CEO of OhmConnect said. Nearly 2 million Californians faced rolling blackouts during last weekend’s heatwave-induced grid emergency.

Under an agreement reached several years ago, during periods of high demand, California Independent System Operator (CAISO) tells OhmConnect its megawatt reduction needs, and OhmConnect sends text alerts to its 150,000 users asking them to power down. If OhmConnect’s demand response participants react and use less energy than forecasted, they get paid. Last Friday, OhmConnect users in Fresno, California cut their home energy use the most, earning $82,064 in the process.

Utilities participating in the program pay OhmConnect to engage with its users to hit CAISO’s megawatt reduction targets.

“If we come up short, we have to buy on the spot market to make up for it,” DeVries said. Today, California residents whose utility providers are PG&E, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric are eligible for OhmConnect’s residential demand response program.

Growing Need

“What’s unfortunately been evident is that [last] Friday’s situation was avoidable. Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of devices in homes across California sat idle. California needs a program and market to tie them together to respond swiftly and intelligently in critical situations like this,” DeVries said. Only one percent of homes participating in OhmConnect’s program opted out of last Friday’s appeal to reduce their home energy use in return for cash.

According to DeVries, signups for its demand response program have tripled in the last few days. “If we are just talking about the last few days, I think the energy crisis is the reason. Overall, though, I think pandemic economic challenges are motivating folks this year,” he added.

For solar contractors or installers telling customers about OhmConnect’s demand response program is akin to telling them another way to generate cash from their rooftop solar or solar plus storage investment, DeVries said. It’s also a way to engage customers at a time when Covid-19 might be disrupting their solar sales and installation businesses, he added. For each referral, a solar contractor or an installer receives $20 from OhmConnect.

Within the next year OhmConnect is launching its residential demand response program in Texas and on the east coast, starting with the PJM power market. DeVries sees PJM is an attractive market for many reasons, including the fact that several robust utility-led demand response programs already exist in the region. In Texas, smart meters are nearly universal, he added, noting that nationwide only about 60% of homes have smart meters. Having a smart meter is not a prerequisite for participating in OhmConnect’s demand response program, but smart meters are helpful for tracking energy use and reductions.

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