800 Utilities + 50 Million People = Renewable Energy Is Crushing It

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As if fossil fuel stakeholders didn’t have enough to worry about these days, the firm AutoGrid is teaming up with the NRTC to make its energy management software available to as many as 50 million people across 48 states. The deal will help push renewable energy, electric vehicles and other clean tech goodies into the fast lane.

renewable energy distributed resources
A new partnership with AutoGrid could help NRTC stimulate renewable energy development among its 800 member utilities (image via AutoGrid).

Demand Response & Renewable Energy

AutoGrid has popped up on the CleanTechnica radar for its cutting edge work on distributed energy resources and “virtual power plants,” which refers to motivating energy consumers to change their demand in response to supply. Motivate enough consumers, and the kilowatts begin pile up into the utility scale.

The company has also caught the eye of ARPA-E, the Energy Department’s high tech funding office.

AutoGrid has provided an answer to this burning question posed by ARPA-E back in 2016:

“What if consumers were empowered with real-time data on the cost and efficiency of their energy use?”

Actually, ARPA-E answered its own question:

During times of peak demand — such as on a hot summer afternoon when homes and businesses crank up their air conditioning — utilities could let cost-conscious consumers know how much they’re spending on energy or ask environmentally minded consumers to voluntarily reduce their energy footprint. Utilities would then be better positioned to quickly and efficiently manage demand and supply fluctuations on the grid.

For “supply fluctuations” read “wind and solar power,” and you can see where the renewable energy angle fits in.

What Is This NRTC Of Which You Speak?

NRTC is the National Rural Telecommunications Cooperative. If that sounds like something associated with NRECA, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, run right out and buy yourself a cigar.

NRTC was founded in 1986 with by electric cooperatives, NRECA, and the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation with the aim of bringing “today’s evolving technology to rural America.”

Early NRTC projects included automated meter reading and direct broadcast system distribution, followed by internet and cell phone access, among other related ventures.

Things were fairly quiet on the renewable energy side until 2015, when NRTC inked a solar power agreement with SoCore Energy (acquired by Engie US in 2018).

In the ensuing years NRTC laid the groundwork for the AutoGrid venture. One highlight was the formation of a partnership with Silver Spring Networks (acquired by Itron in 2018) that enabled NRTC to provide for two-way smart meters among other new technologies that are compatible with renewable energy.

Smart Meters & Renewable Energy

That thing about two-way smart meters should start ringing some bells. In its latest venture, NRTC has announced a partnership with AutoGrid, which will make its Autogrid Flex DERMS (short for Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems) platform available to its 800+ member utilities. All together the members serve 20 million homes totaling 50 million residents in 48 states.

NRTC’s goal is to provide member utilities with the opportunity to offer connected thermostats, water heaters, battery energy storage, solar PV, and electric vehicles to their customers. AutoGrid Flex will handle enrollment, monitoring, optimization, and control.

“Utilities will gain leading-edge capability to use DERs to harness a broad array of grid services, including demand response and load shifting, co-incidental peak management, renewables integration and other forms of AI-based analytics and optimization capabilities,” NRTC enthused in a press release announcing the new partnership.

“The end-result for utilities and their customers will be lower costs, higher reliability, greater control and increased use of clean energy,” added NRTC to drive the point home.

Rural Electric Cooperatives & Renewable Energy

It’s all part of the emerging BYOT (“bring your own things” or “bring your own thermostat”) trend, which leverages internet-connected devices to tweak supply and demand.

That tweaking could apply to fossil fuel power plants, but the primary focus is on integrating more renewable energy into the grid.

In that regard, a raft of heavy hitters is networked into the AutoGrid-NRTC venture. AutoGrid counts Schneider Electric, CLP, E.ON, CPS Energy, Shell, National Grid, NextEra Energy, and Total among the companies it has worked with, and then there’s the whole NRECA connection.

NRECA is all over solar energy like white on rice, and has partnered with the Department of Energy on a toolkit to help accelerate solar energy adoption among electric cooperatives. Partly through recovery funding from the 2008  financial meltdown, the organization and its members have pushed the renewable energy grid integration envelope, and there will probably be another burst of clean tech activity as COVID-19 recovery takes shape.

With the new BYOT opportunities offered through AutoGrid, that could add up to a lot of activity bubbling up under the surface of rural America.

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Image: Courtesy of AutoGrid.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

Tina Casey has 3148 posts and counting. See all posts by Tina Casey